Affordable housing developers say COVID migrants have put pressure on housing market

Josie Albertson-Grove, The New Hampshire Union Leader, Manchester
·2 min read

Feb. 18—The housing markets in the Lakes Region and Littleton area have grown tighter over the last year as more people move in, say two area developers of affordable housing.

This week, the federal appropriation for nonprofit developer NeighborWorks America was announced, including funds for four New Hampshire agencies — NeighborWorks Southern New Hampshire in Manchester, Lakes Region Community Developers in Laconia, AHEAD Inc. in Littleton and CATCH Neighborhood Housing in Concord. Those four developers are set to get a total of just over $1 million, as part of the money they get every year from the federal government.

The funding is a constant as the affordable-housing developers see a greater need for their services.

"We feel even more pressure than we have in the past to build affordable housing," said Carmen Lorentz, executive director of Lakes Region Community Developers — and not just because more people are having trouble paying for housing after losing work or hours.

Lorentz said she has seen people from cities like Boston coming to stay year-round in second homes, or buying and renting houses in the Lakes Region, and has heard from local realtors that cash offers on homes are becoming common.

"It was already pretty tough for people who work here and live here year-round," she said. "COVID really heated up our residential market quite a bit."

Mike Claflin, Lorentz's counterpart at community developer AHEAD in Littleton, said he has seen a hotter housing market there, too. Claflin estimated home prices have gone up between 20% and 30% in the last year.

COVID is not the only factor, he said. Claflin said Littleton's gained a reputation for hipness in recent years, and said he has seen more millennials moving in from larger cities. That pressure on the housing market predated COVID, he said.

"But it certainly has put a lot more pressure on what kind of housing is available in a market that is really, really stressed," Claflin said of the pandemic. "It has a pretty dramatic impact on housing, and the availability of housing."

Lorentz said the wages year-round residents earn, especially those who work in retail and food service, have not kept pace with the cost of living in the area. She worries about those workers competing for limited housing stock with wealthier people working higher-paying jobs remotely.

"We feel even more pressure than we have in the past to build affordable housing," she said.