ElizaKit 1850

Eliza Grant left and Kit Hickey of the Bluebird Project are seeking to turn this building at 109 Pine Street into affordable housing. (DAYMOND STEER PHOTO)

CONWAY — Two local moms are spearheading an effort to create affordable housing by preserving historical properties in town.

The Bluebird Project — a for-profit LLC — is headed by veterinarian Eliza Grant and Kit Hickey, an MIT lecturer on entrepreneurship, both Conway residents. They are both in their 30s, both married with two children age 5 and under, and both are civic-minded.

Grant sits on the planning board, and Hickey serves on the budget committee.

Both serve on the North Conway Lilliputian Montessori School board of directors. They say they have seen families and preschool teachers struggle to find housing, so they decided to roll up their sleeves and do something about it.

“Right now, there are two issues in Conway,” Hickey told the Sun on Wednesday. “There is no availability of long-term rentals (we heard the vacancy rate was 0.6 percent — just no supply, and when there is supply, it is typically at a price that a local family would need to pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent.”

Grant said: “We really see firsthand how much the housing issue is really a crisis and is affecting every part of our community. And there’s not a lot of other groups tackling it.”

By tackling it, that means buying a building — the 1850-built Bunker building located at 109 Pine St. in North Conway — for a price the two declined to disclose. They also declined to say where the purchase money was coming from.

According to Zillow, the hulking building sits on .64 acre and was assessed in 2020 for $179,300.

Grant and Hickey are seeking a community development block grant of up to $500,000 in HUD funds to renovate up to seven affordable rental units pending a zoning board of adjustment variance from the town.

The grant money would pass through the Carroll County government but won’t cost the county anything.

A public hearing required for the grant will take place Jan. 13 at 2 p.m. at the Carroll County Administration Building at 95 Water Village Road.

The rents will be affordable, comprising no more than 30 percent of a family’s income. For a family of three with an income of $41,000, 30 percent would come to about $1,000 per month (utilities included) for a two-bedroom unit. They hope to make a mix of one-, two- and perhaps three-bedroom apartments. The project hasn’t been fully engineered yet.

Since the Bunker building is located in the Village Commercial District, it could have been turned into a massive short-term rental property had someone else bought it, the women said.

They are in the process of acquiring a second property in Conway; the location of which will be announced at the selectmen’s meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 4. They will be seeking the same sort of grant funding for this second project. Conway Selectmen meet at 4 p.m. at Town Hall at 23 Main Street Conway Village.

The 109 Pine Street building is the old Bunker Plumbing Supply building AKA the North Conway House, which was a lodging house for many years.

It was built in the early 1800s and enlarged in 1850. When it was originally built it was located on the corner of Mechanic and Main Street in North Conway Village. Some time after1900, it was moved to its current location on Pine Street, according to a story in the Sun’s archives.

The former owners are Michael and Patricia Diodati of Lawrence, Mass.

The women said the former owners wanted the building preserved and passed on to someone who would care for it. Right now, it’s mostly gutted but does have a couple of apartments in use.

The Sun asked why they are choosing to preserve the building rather than tearing it down and making something new.

“I think we live here and we love the character of the town,” said Hickey. “And because I think it’s really special. Like the fact that this building was It was built in 1850. It was on Main Street, then it got literally got moved to Pine Street.”

The women are eager to hear from anyone who has a property that they would like to see preserved and could be turned into affordable housing. They also hope to find other investors who could help them along. One can follow their progress on their new Facebook page thebluebirdprojectnh.

They are particularly interested in connecting with other property owners who have significant properties dating back before 1900. They are also interested in hearing from those who have younger properties that have character.

The women’s project comes at an opportune time for history buffs. as there is considerable anguish in Conway about the loss of several landmarks, most recently, the razing of the 1911-built former Valley Jewelers.

Grant explained why they call it the Bluebird Project.

“I chose it because a bluebird day on the mountain is my favorite thing about being in the valley,” said Grant. “And I especially love when there’s like a nice quiet weekday and you are out and about and it’s all locals and you don’t have to wait 30 minutes to get your coffee. That’s my favorite thing. And so I would like for Conway and the valley, to have a robust local community that allows everybody to live in the area and enjoy their community and enjoy their bluebird days.”

For more information contact the Bluebird Project at thebluebirdprojectnh@gmail.com.

Recommended for you

(2) comments

ConwayNHResident

I know another local mother doing the exact same thing. You should reach out to her. They can learn a lot from her. She already has proven results.

T-Rex

Unfortunately this building will not pass fire codes.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.