Housing coalition head takes job with AHEAD

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CONWAY — Harrison Kanzler, 35, executive director of the non-profit Mount Washington Housing Coalition for the past two years, has been hired as the new executive director of AHEAD (Affordable Housing Education and Development) in Littleton.

The announcement was made Thursday by AHEAD board chair Martha McLeod and incoming chair Susan Retz on Thursday.

“We are really thrilled to have Harrison coming on board,” said McLeod. “He is so passionate about housing and has had experience both in Concord as a past state representative and in his work on housing in the valley with the MWV Housing Coalition. We think he will be able to bring both sides of the mountains together to work on the affordable housing crisis and we are looking forward to having him working on these issues.”

Kanzler of North Conway is to start Aug. 1.

“I’m really excited,” Kanzler told the Sun Thursday. “I was not looking for a new post as I have been very happy at the housing coalition, but someone told me of the opening there at AHEAD as their longtime director (Michael Clafin) was retiring — so I applied and am thrilled that I was chosen.”

He called it “a really great opportunity because they not only do the educational kinds of things that I have been doing at the coalition but they also do development so I will be able to put into practice what we have been talking about.”

Andy Dean, chair of the MWV Housing Coalition, said the group has begun advertising for Kanzler’s replacement. He wished Kanzler well in his new post, even though he said he is sad to see him leave.

“This is certainly a loss for our organization. Harrison took over the role of executive director from Victoria Laracy during the beginning of COVID and was able to advance the Housing Coalition’s cause despite the challenges of remote meetings and limited in-person forums,” Dean said, adding, “I know we will continue to have a great working relationship with Harrison as he continues to advocate for affordable housing in our local communities,” he added.

As executive director of the AHEAD, Kanzler will manage a $2.3 million budget and $66 million in assets, which include 514 housing and commercial units. He declined to divulge his salary.

According to the organization’s website, homesahead.org, AHEAD has been developing and managing high quality affordable housing for 30 years and is a statewide leader in home ownership and financial education services.

Kanzler will continue to live in North Conway and commute to Littleton. He and wife, Tracy, have two young children, Ellie, 4, and Clifford, 2½.

“I’ll be on the road a lot, spending time not only in Littleton but also in Berlin and Concord,” he said. “I will be continuing to collaborate with the MWV Housing Coalition on initiatives in the valley.”

He said his immediate goal is to “do my best to be an adequate replacement” for his predecessor, Clafin, who held the post for 10 years. “One of my immediate goals is to honor and continue the great work done by Mike — he is well-known and loved in the organization and in the North Country in general.

“Ultimately,” he added, “my goal is to push the envelope a bit as to what we do with housing and what we see as opportunities there are for housing — it’s great obviously to have affordable rental units but I would like to see us get more neighborhoods of nice single-family homes for people to live in, and how to best to make that work and leverage it to make it as affordable as possible …

Kanzler earned a bachelor of arts degree majoring in history from the University of New Hampshire and a master’s degree in archaeology from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

He served as a Democratic state representative from Conway from 2019-20. During that period, he worked closely with the housing coalition to put forward pro-housing legislation.

In 2020, Kanzler left state politics to become executive director of the housing coalition.

He currently serves on Housing Action New Hampshire’s Governing Council; is the Housing Domain Chair for MWV Age-Friendly Community (AARP); and is a Member of the Governor’s Council on Housing Stability.