Originally published at Josiah Barlett Center for Public Policy, republished with permission.
In 1970, Manchester had more than enough rentals for all who needed one. Over the course of the next half-century, the city created its own housing shortage.
It’s a story repeated in many communities throughout New Hampshire. Manchester offers a case study based on Census figures.
Manchester had 36,024 total housing units in 1970, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. In 2020, the city had 49,445 housing units. That’s an increase of 37% in 50 years.
- Salem’s housing units grew from 6.795 in 1970 to 12,005 in 2020, an increase of 76%.
- Nashua’s housing units grew from 20,984 in 1970 to 37,933 in 2020, an increase of 80%.
- Derry’s housing units grew from 4,279 in 1970 to 13,539 in 2020, an increase of 216%.
- Total statewide housing units increased from 280,962 in 1970 to 638354 in 2020, an increase of more than 127%.
Those are total units, not just rentals. But you can see the rental shortage in the vacancy rate. Manchester’s rental vacancy rate fell from 5.4% in 1970 to below 1% today.
(New Hampshire suffers from a similarly low vacancy rate, also caused by a shortage of rentals. Local planners in many communities have preferred to approve single-family homes rather than rentals.)
Because Manchester did not allow the construction of enough housing, the city’s population growth rate lagged the rates in some other municipalities.
From 1970-2020, Manchester’s population grew by 32%. During the same period, Nashua’s population grew by 64%, Derry’s by 95%, and Salem’s by 342%. New Hampshire’s population grew by 87%.
Because city officials chose to limit growth, Manchester’s population and economy have grown at a slower rate than the rest of the state as a whole. Artificially limiting the city’s housing supply created a drag on the city’s economic growth and cultural life.
If city leaders want to stimulate Manchester’s economy, revitalize its public schools, increase its tax base, and enhance its cultural life, goal No. 1 should be to approve a lot more housing, with an immediate emphasis on rentals.