Residents of the Seacoast are facing impossible financial choices in the budget areas where many people have little, if any, flexibility. Gas prices are through the roof. Grocery bills keep getting higher. Housing availability has plummeted and housing costs have skyrocketed.
The state of New Hampshire has little to no control over fuel costs or grocery prices, but state government has numerous tools at its disposal that it could have deployed to help crack the housing crisis.
Just how bad is the problem? It is severe. New Hampshire needs at least 20,000 more affordable housing units than it has today, according to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority.
The people directly affected by this crisis fall into three main categories: 1) homeless people, 2) renters, and 3) home buyers.
Let’s start with homeless people. There are 1,450 people experiencing homelessness in New Hampshire on any given night according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. They are exposed to higher rates of violent crime. A lack of safe housing can lead to dire – and costly – physical and mental health impacts. New Hampshire does not have enough housing to get them off the streets and into safe shelter.
Next are renters. Vacancy rates are less than one percent, according to New Hampshire Housing, so finding an available and affordable apartment is a job unto itself. Where absentee and irresponsible landlords ignore maintenance and safety issues, renters may be stuck because they cannot find alternatives. If someone qualifies for Section 8 low-income housing because they have lost a job, had a serious health issue, or are a sole caregiver, then they are at substantial risk of homelessness because of long waiting lists. Many other landlords are raising rents to levels that far exceed 30% of renters’ incomes, forcing gainfully employed people, especially young people, to leave the state.
For those who want to invest in a home, long a primary component of the American dream, well, good luck. Competition is brutal. Many first-time buyers are having to pay far more than their budgets permit. Other buyers are forced into bidding wars that land far above original listing prices. If people lose at that game enough times, they may even resort to buying "as is" properties, which may require thousands of dollars to make habitable.
It did not have to be like this.
Republicans, who currently have control of the governor’s office, the Executive Council, the Senate, and the House, have been in a position since November of 2020 to pass almost any legislation they wanted. They could have acted on the housing problem before it ever-so-predictably snowballed into today’s full-blown crisis.
Republicans could have invested state surpluses in transitional and affordable housing. They did not, but Republicans thoroughly enjoyed crowing about their 0.1% cut to the business profits tax. That ideological victory will be cold comfort to people whose businesses fail because their employees have no place to live. Thankfully, our Democratic federal delegation secured more than $23 million in Housing and Urban Development funding for affordable housing for vulnerable people in New Hampshire.
Republicans could have invested state funds to incentivize affordable housing. They did not. Gov. Sununu did, however, accept $100 million from the American Rescue Plan, a plan for which he said he never would have voted. Sixty million dollars of it will go to multi-family housing developers and the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority. But under Gov. Sununu’s InvestNH, the affordable units will only have rents capped for five years. Gov. Sununu’s is a short-term fix and it is insufficient to address the affordable housing problem. New Hampshire needs to invest in our own economic future.
Republicans could have incentivized cities and towns to rewrite overly restrictive zoning ordinances that prevent multi-family housing and could have encouraged municipalities to accelerate the granting of permits. Yes, there is a $35 million investment being made, and of course, Gov. Sununu is boasting about it, but again: it was the Democratic federal delegation that secured those funds for New Hampshire.
Where are the New Hampshire solutions to New Hampshire’s problems?
We deserve representatives in Concord who can identify and solve problems before they turn into catastrophes. It boggles the mind that one party had full control of our government and they were incapable of or unwilling to offer any real solutions. As a result, we have a record number of people who are homeless, we have hard-working people struggling to find livable and affordable apartments, and we have young people who have to leave a state they want to stay in because they cannot get any footing on the property ladder here.
New Hampshire’s housing crisis? It was brought to you by Republicans.
Erica de Vries is a Hampton resident, attorney, and small business owner.
This article originally appeared on Portsmouth Herald: Blue View: NH’s housing crisis brought to you by Republicans