Portsmouth’s new workforce housing to be named after Ruth Griffin

PORTSMOUTH – The city's largest expansion of permanently affordable housing in 50 years will be called Ruth Lewin Griffin Place, named after the Portsmouth Housing Authority's longtime commissioner and community stalwart.

The name of the 64-unit workforce housing development at 152 Court St. was revealed during Wednesday's formal groundbreaking ceremony for the $16.3 million project, thoughwork on the site began in October.

Construction is expected to take 14 to 16 months and the building will be occupied by the first half of 2022.
Rents for the apartments will start at $900 a month for a one-bedroom and $1,100 for a two-bedroom unit, PHA Executive Director Craig Welch said last month.

In announcing the development's name, Welch said Griffin has made an "indelible mark on the people of Portsmouth."

Griffin, who is in her 90s, recently stepped down as chair after serving as a PHA commissioner since 1978, "when I was in third grade," Welch laughed.

Former mayor and new PHA Board Chair Tom Ferrini said Griffin has "a unique ability to see issues as they affect the people we serve." Griffin always wanted to know how the board's actions would ultimately impact residents, he said.

"I'm just delighted," said Griffin, wrapped in a blanket and seated with her walker by her side. "Thank you so much for this honor."

Griffin, who said she enjoys seeing young people learning about the history of Portsmouth, noted her father "would be so pleased today if he could see what happened here."

In 2018, Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill into law naming the new Little Bay Bridge from Newington to Dover after Griffin, a Republican icon who served more than 40 years as a state representative, state senator and Executive Council member.

At Wednesday's ceremony – which drew elected officials, city staff, representatives from congressional offices and countless other community members – Welch said there is no place in New Hampshire where the state's affordable housing crisis "is felt more acutely than in the city of Portsmouth."

Welch said the shortage has had negative impacts on the character of the city and its businesses. Most housing built in recent years, he said, has been for "the more affluent people here in our community."

"Despite the overwhelming public support for this project, it was not easy," Welch said.

There was a 19-month delay as the PHA's plans were challenged all the way to the state Supreme Court. The suit was brought by city residents Mark Brighton, Patience Horton and Carolyn Bray, who alleged two non-resident city officials voted to approve the plans. They also questioned whether the plans met the federal definition of workforce housing. The court ruled in favor of the PHA in March.

Welch hailed the PHA's two boards as "powerhouses," unmatched in the state of New Hampshire, he said.
Ferrini thanked the residents of nearby Feaster Apartments. The construction of a 60,000-square-foot building will be "disruptive and difficult," he said, but he asked residents to "stay involved and help us make it better for you."

"Before we know it, there will be school teachers, police officers, restaurant workers, designers, young families, streaming out this door into Portsmouth," said Adam Ruedig, president of the PHA Housing Development Ltd. directors.

Portsmouth Housing Authority Executive Director Craig Welch speaks during the official
groundbreaking for a 64-unit affordable housing development on Court Street, which will be
ready for occupancy in 2022.

Portsmouth Mayor Rick Becksted said he is hopeful the PHA's new development "will be the first of many projects." In light of COVID-19 impacts on the economy and housing, the city will need infrastructure like this more than ever before, he said.

"I hope it's the start of what's to come in the future," Becksted said.

Rebecca Perkins Kwoka, newly-elected state senator for District 21 and a former PHA commissioner, said she was "so proud" of the groundbreaking.

"I know endless hours went into making this a reality," she said. "The speakers today said it best. This is a project that speaks to our community's values, and to me it says that Portsmouth is being innovative, inclusive and forward-looking."