Larry Davis knows where he wants to die. It is on the land where he has lived since 1963 on Salisbury Road in Franklin. The house he grew up in is on the right, a yellow raised ranch where his brother now lives. Davis lives in a converted garage to the left of the property. It’s small, but he says that’s all he needs.
Davis, 69, grew up in Franklin doing tours of Daniel Webster’s birthplace in Franklin for 25 cents an hour. He remembers where he was when John F. Kennedy died. He was in CM1, sitting in this yellow house.
But financial difficulties continue to jeopardize the retired stonemason’s future. He is one of hundreds living in the state’s smallest city well below the poverty line. He owns his house, but he is on the verge of homelessness.
“It’s the end of my life,” Davis said. “I think it’s beautiful. It’s a nice place to live and I like living here.”
In 2016, Davis nearly lost her home — the two-acre lot is valued at $66,500 and the house at $26,800 — as unpaid property taxes piled up. After the Monitor wrote about the possibility of the city of Franklin taking his house and auctioning it off, an unnamed couple paid Davis’ back taxes and put money aside for future payments.
It was five years ago. Now Davis is behind on taxes again.
Twice a year, Franklin sends property tax bills. Davis missed his first payment, which was due in July. He owes the city $590.95.
Although Davis is not yet in danger of losing his home, as the process for the city to foreclose on the property does not begin until three years after a missed payment, for each remaining day it earns interest. Currently, the interest rate in Franklin is 8%.
If his bill remains unpaid next year, the city can place a lien on his home, which will incur additional charges on top of his mounting debt.
Davis doesn’t work, and he hasn’t worked since he was a stonecutter. Previously, he was able to build an entire house, from the chimney to the electrical wiring, in three months, he said. The only thing he couldn’t do was install the plumbing.
Now, with his declining health, Davis is housebound. He does not drive and does not have access to a car.
With no savings, he lives on $358 a month from social security contributions, which means his annual income is less than $5,000 a year.
In Franklin, the median annual non-family household income is low for Merrimack County at $29,506, according to the U.S. Census. This equates to $2,458.83 per month.
“I’m poor. I’ve lived a fun life,” Davis said. “And I haven’t saved my money like you’re supposed to for retirement.”
Calculating his income as an hourly wage reveals that Davis would earn about $2 an hour. His income is well below the Merrimack County living wage, which is $16.98 for a childless adult in the greater Concord area, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology calculator.
In Franklin, about 6% of the city’s 8,700 residents live below the poverty line like Davis.
Although he receives help with some expenses, he barely has enough money to maintain his house. His property taxes are $76 per month, which works out to $912 per year.
He first bought his neighbor’s garage for $14,900. He remembers that she was moving and offered him the land. At the time, he had money.
Gradually he turned the garage into a house, but it had no running water until last year. A state program installed a well for him in April. He was listening to the radio one day when an ad for the show came on.
Before the well, Davis collected rainwater or waited for the snow to melt on his roof in the winter.
He hopes the county’s Community Action Program will help protect his home from the elements this fall. Instead of using his wood stove, he will heat the building with propane. After breaking his leg chopping wood, it’s too much for him to manage to lug all the logs around. He is grateful for any help he receives.
“So, you know, I’m blessed by the state,” he said.
The Community Action Program provides services that help seniors and low-income people remain financially independent in their community. Services range from childcare to food assistance and rental programs.
The Fuel Assistance Program distributed $3 million in home heating assistance last winter for nearly 3,000 homes in Merrimack County, including 331 in Franklin.
In a way, Davis sees the help he receives as good karma. Throughout his life, he did a variety of free projects for others, he said.
“I still do a lot of free stuff for people. And I have always been in my life,” he said. “I guess I must have done something right.”
Despite his luck and help from the government, Davis doesn’t know how he will make enough money to pay his taxes.
He thought of selling some of his old carpentry tools. They sit in sheds on his property, untouched.
For the past few years, he has been growing a variety of vegetables in front of his house – selling some and donating others. He hasn’t felt strong enough to garden this season. He hopes to replant next year.
He has no intention of leaving. The ashes of nine of his friends and family were strewn on his property. He wants to be number 10.
“My father died there in his house and that’s where I die,” he said. “I like being here.”