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Exec Council Approves $50 Million for Sununu’s Housing Fund

The Executive Council approved the first $50 million in funding for Gov. Chris Sununu’s InvestNH Housing Fund, an ambitious plan to deal with the Granite State’s housing crisis. 

“This initial $50 million investment will create 1,500 new rental units across the state, helping increase supply, drive down costs, and ensure New Hampshire is the best state to live, work, and raise a family,” Sununu said.

InvestNH is a $100 million investment plan to boost housing construction by covering the gaps in hard construction costs on affordable multi-family developments.

The plan uses money from the state’s portion of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act. The fund will eventually direct $60 million toward developers, with $10 million going to the New Hampshire Housing Authority, and another $10 million earmarked for non-profit and small-scale for-profit developers. The remaining $40 million is going to municipalities to help streamline the zoning and planning process to get the projects built. There is also money that municipalities can use to demolish old structures and update zoning ordinances to meet current needs.

This first $50 million will be used for housing projects which will be held to affordability restrictions and construction completion deadlines within 18 months.

Both Sununu and his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Tom Sherman agree the current crisis in affordable housing availability is putting the state’s economic growth in danger. There are tens of thousands of high-paying jobs available in New Hampshire, but not enough potential workers can find places to live.

Sherman has released his own housing plan, which he said builds on Sununu’s $100 million investment.

While the council approved the housing funds, it stalled funding for a decade-old sex education plan a fourth time. No member of the council moved to vote on the $682,000 contract, leaving it in limbo.

The program is aimed at reducing teen pregnancy in Sullivan County and the city of Manchester, pockets of the state with the highest rates.

Republican councilors Joe Kenney, David Wheeler, and Ted Gatsas all previously supported the same program, but now cite concerns about parental rights when arguing against the contract. While parents must give permission for their children to participate in the program, details about what the curriculum exactly teaches are not available to the public.

Liz Canada, Advocacy Manager for PPNNE/Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund, blasted the move, saying it puts women and children in harm’s way. The council has previously voted to defund family planning contracts with clinics that also perform abortions.

“By gutting the family planning program and rejecting routine funding for after-school sex education, the Executive Council has jeopardized New Hampshire’s capacity to reduce rates of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in our state at a time when the landscape of reproductive health care nationwide is in chaos because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Canada said. “Now is not the time to risk the ability of trusted community organizations to deliver what could be life-saving information and support.”

Sununu Launches $100M ‘InvestNH’ Initiative to Fight Housing Shortage

Thousands of housing units could be added to New Hampshire in the coming months if Gov. Chris Sununu and his allies in the state’s business community get their way.

Sununu unveiled details of his $100 million investment plan on Tuesday. He hopes it will alleviate the housing crisis that experts say is making it harder for employers to recruit workers and for young people to remain in the state.

Starting next week, developers will be able to apply for money from the new InvestNH Housing Fund, which will help cover the financial gaps in hard construction costs on affordable multi-family developments.

“We’re moving quickly. We don’t want to just talk about things in this state, we want to make them happen,” Sununu said.

Though New Hampshire’s economy is booming, the lack of affordable housing could put that growth in danger. There are tens of thousands of high-paying jobs available in New Hampshire, but not enough potential workers can find places to live, Sununu said.

“We just need affordable housing in this state to keep up with the level of economic growth,” Sununu said.

Elissa Margolin, director of Housing Action NH.

Businesses cannot find workers, and people are not taking jobs in the Granite State because there is nowhere to live. Ellisa Margolin, director at the non-profit Housing Action NH, said the $100 million fund represents a serious effort to address the crisis that impacts the state’s entire economy.

“The workforce shortage that we’re experiencing is directly related to our shortage of housing in this state,” Margolin said. “If it’s difficult for a new medical resident to accept his residency at an area hospital because he can’t find housing he can afford, you can imagine what it’s like for a single parent with children.”

Nicole Ward, general manager at the Copper Door in Bedford, is lucky enough to live in workforce housing located behind the restaurant. She said the potential for more businesses to be able to provide affordable housing for employees will make for better businesses and communities.

“I just think a project like this, being able to provide more affordable living for employees like myself, would lead to a better work ethic, more longevity and less turnover, and a better work environment altogether,” Ward said.

The InvestNH Housing Fund will use money from the state’s portion of the American Rescue Plan Act. The fund will direct $60 million to go toward developers. Of that, $10 million will go to the New Hampshire Housing Authority, and another $10 million is earmarked for non-profit and small-scale for-profit developers.

The remaining $40 million is going to municipalities to help streamline the process to get the projects built. There is also money municipalities can use to demolish old structures and for updating zoning ordinances to meet current needs.

Taylor Caswell, New Hampshire’s Business and Economic Affairs commissioner, said the state wants to encourage affordable multi-family developments, whether it is a large apartment project or a small Victorian home on Main Street that could be converted into a five-unit apartment building.

“The goal is to get more units online as fast as possible,” he said.

According to the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank based in Concord, the unwillingness of communities like Manchester to allow more housing construction has limited their growth when compared to nearby communities.

Between 1970 and 2020, the total number of housing units in the Queen City grew by just 37 percent. In Salem, they grew by 76 percent, in Nashua by 80 percent, and statewide by 127 percent. As a result, Manchester’s population and economic growth also lagged behind.

“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,” wrote the Bartlett Center’s Drew Cline. “Artificially limiting the city’s housing supply created a drag on the city’s economic growth and cultural life.”

The state’s housing shortage, which is contributing to its employee shortage, is just one of the current challenges facing the state. Another is the recent announcement of soaring electricity rates from the state’s largest utilities.  Sununu recently announced a $60 million utility bill relief package that includes a one-time $100 dollar grant to some 600,000 electric ratepayers. He also has plans to address the looming home heating crisis that will take hold this winter as oil costs continue to skyrocket.

Sununu said Washington is to blame for rising prices that are hurting New Hampshire families.

Commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Business and Economic Affairs Taylor Caswell.

“This energy crisis in America — the Biden administration has created a massive problem,” Sununu said Tuesday. “When it costs you twice as much to put gas in your car, it’s going to cost you at least twice as much to put home heating oil into your tank.”

Sununu’s Democratic opponent in November’s election, state Sen. Tom Sherman (D-Rye) dismissed Sununu’s efforts as too slow and lacking in transparency.

“New Hampshire’s housing crunch is making it difficult for families to pay their bills each month and companies to find workers,” Sherman said. “While Granite Staters have been struggling for years, Sununu delayed so long in distributing rental assistance funds that nearly $20 million in federal funds were reallocated to other states. Sununu was the last governor in the region to put ARP funds towards affordable housing and chose to create a brand new program with more red tape instead of efficiently investing in existing programs. We need to make sure this is a transparent process that helps Granite Staters, not just a handout to campaign donors during an election year.”

Sununu said he was working with House Speaker Sherman Packard, R-Londonderry, and Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, to address the heating crisis using state surplus funds. Sununu’s plan would allow the state to expand eligibility for heating assistance so that more families would be able to benefit. He is not interested in waiting for Congress to change the rules to make the federal assistance program more accessible as Granite Staters struggle to heat their homes. 

“We are not going to wait for the winter to see if the feds get around to fixing their problem,” Sununu said.

Information about the InvestNH Housing Fund and how to apply can be found at www.invest603.com. 

Nashua Named One of America’s Best-Run Cities

Nashua is one of the best-run cities in the country according to a new WalletHub analysis. It finds the Gate City offers high-quality services within an affordable municipal budget. 

Nashua ranks fourth overall in the study based on metrics like financial stability, infrastructure, safety, health, the economy, and education. Nampa, Idaho tops the list followed by Boise, Idaho, and Fort Wayne, Ind.

There is no secret to Nashua’s success, city leaders said.

“It’s not that it’s magic, it’s just good old hard work,” said Nashua Alderman Mike O’Brien.

Mayor Jim Donchess said city hall staff and department leaders work at bringing the best services to residents at the most efficient cost.

“I know here in Nashua we are very careful with money,” Donchess said. “We look at every expenditure while also making sure we’re investing appropriately in our city services.”

According to the analysis, Nashua is tied for second place in quality of roads and fourth in lowest violent crime rate. The city made the top 10 in both the quality of the services and the lowest cost per capita. That is a rare combination.

Wendy Hunt, with the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce, said if Nashua has a secret it is the leadership and the dedicated municipal employees.

“I think the secret to Nashua is the departments work well together, elected officials work well together, and they’re very responsive,” Hunt said,

Aldermen throughout the city are willing to deal with constituent problems and work for solutions, she said. “They are always very on top of the needs of the community.”

O’Brien said Nashua’s leadership takes a long view when it comes to managing the city.

“I’m not doing this to make changes, but to be a custodian for the city,” O’Brien said. “My grandchildren will grow up in this city and I want to make it the best city we can afford to make it.”

Robert Wright, Senior Faculty Fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research, said many American cities saw the quality of life decline during the COVID-19 pandemic. Wright said poorly run cities suffered rising crime, school dropouts, increased unemployment, and increased municipal debt.

“All (the declines) were self-inflicted as shown by well-run cities that quickly dropped unnecessary COVID restrictions, nipped unrest in the bud, and maintained criminal deterrence policies.

Nashua continues to have low unemployment (2.3 percent) as the pandemic’s effects fade.  O’Brien said Nashua’s Police and Fire Departments have done an excellent job keeping people safe, and the city is even using a COVID-19 protocol–outdoor dining downtown–to its advantage. O’Brien said outdoor dining has become so popular the city plans to continue making it possible.

Nashua is not without its problems. O’Brien cited a lack of affordable housing in the city as a concern that needs to be addressed. He is confident the city will continue to work on improvements.

“We in Nashua understand the needs of the community, and we actively work hard to make the city a desirable city to live in,” he said.

Two New Hampshire cities made the top 20 despite being one of the smallest states. Manchester checked in at number 19.

NH Near Top Of Home Value Rankings–Is That Good News Or Bad?

In a new analysis of home value and purchasing power trends, New Hampshire ranks fourth in the nation, with home values up 6.1 percent in the last year alone.  Compared to the national average of a mere 2.3 percent increase, that’s good news for Granite State homeowners. In fact, some people are asking if the news is too good.

Housing prices are frequently mentioned by workers thinking of relocating to New England, in particular younger workers.  While rising home values can make existing homeowners happy, it makes relocating to New Hampshire that much harder for renters and would-be future buyers.

“We can say all day long that we want young people to move back here, but there is no place for them to live where they would like to live.” That’s the view of Carmen Lorentz, executive director of Lakes Region Community Developers. She told the Laconia Daily Sun: 

“Many of the young and talented workers that we are begging to stay or move to New Hampshire do not want to live in an apartment. Many of them want to own a house – that is part of the New Hampshire lifestyle they envision for themselves.”

And with New Hampshire home prices consistently rising faster than both the New England region and the rest of the nation, it makes that vision harder to realize. In an interview on NHPR last month, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority Dean Christon, described the NH housing market as “an environment where there’s price pressure and limited inventory of both [housing] up for sale and rental housing.  It affects lower income people more, and it affects people trying to purchase their first home.”

So are rising home values creating a crisis?  Mark Fleming says… not yet. Fleming is Chief Economist for First American Financial Corporation, the company that calculates the Real House Price Index (RHPI) rankings based on income, mortgage rates and an unadjusted house price index.  Fleming told NHJournal.com that, while New Hampshire housing prices are up, they still aren’t “back.”

“Our index for New Hampshire is a 68 on a 100 scale, 100 being the purchasing power of a homeowner in the year 2000,” he says.  “In real terms, New Hampshire is still 32 percent away from getting back to their year 2000 levels.”

A key factor in that relative affordability? New Hampshire incomes, which also rose last year. Personal income in the Granite State grew by 3.5 percent—the fastest in New England.

Still, Fleming says, unless something changes, the housing market could start having a negative impact on the rest of the economy by pricing out both young families and the skilled workers employers need. The issue, he says, isn’t on the demand side—even if interest rates doubled, there would still be a net increase in demand, Fleming estimates. It’s on the supply side.  There just aren’t enough housing units being built in New Hampshire for long-term price stability.

Bob Quinn, Vice President of Government Affairs for the NH Association of Realtors. agrees.

“We believe the best long-term solution is increasing housing stock and thereby maintaining our growing economy,” Quinn told NHJournal.com.  “The most significant impediments to housing from a public policy perspective are restrictive zoning laws. Some communities put up unnecessary obstacles to the development of housing, which increases the cost. We strongly believe in allowing developers to build more densely, therefore accommodating both the desires of home buyers while preserving New Hampshire’s natural resources.”

Data from the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority appears to back this view. Their February 2018 Housing report found:

  • A relatively low inventory of homes for sale, particularly under $300,000
  • Housing permits (reflecting construction activity) of multi-family and single-family homes at half the level they were prior to the Great Recession (end of 2007)

In addition to increased supply, Fleming also urges New Hampshire leaders to promote education in high-skill, high-wage jobs.  “Your region is never going to compete on price,” Fleming says. “But you can encourage young people to pursue the high-wage jobs of the future to pay the housing prices of the future.”

The good news is that New Hampshire’s housing assets continue to increase in value. Perhaps the better news is that, with increased inventory and an educated workforce, New Hampshire has the public policy tools to keep from “valuing” itself into a housing crisis.

Senator Presents Ambitious Proposal For More Affordable Housing in NH

When Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord, introduced a bill Wednesday, he sought a $25 million appropriation to the state’s affordable housing fund. Instead, he’s walking away with $5 million at best.

Senate Bill 94 would have put $25 million in the NH Housing Finance Authority’s Affordable Housing Fund to do what its name suggests — create more affordable housing for Granite Staters.

“This is a competitiveness issue,” Feltes testified before the Senate Capital Budget Committee. “We have to think about housing. I think, quite frankly, if there is one bill that’s a top priority, this is it. We have to do something right now and something significant.”

This funding mechanism isn’t anything new. It’s been around since its creation in 1988, under former Republican Gov. John H. Sununu, to be a revolving loan fund that provides low-interest loans and grants to build, rehabilitate, or acquire affordable housing. It’s first appropriation was $4.5 million. Since then, there have only been a few times when the Legislature has added cash to the fund. The fund didn’t see another dime until 2002, when $5 million was added to it.

In 2007, during Democratic Gov. John Lynch’s administration, approximately $750,000 was given to the fund. In 2015, $800,000 was added, and in 2016 $2 million was appropriated, but that money was earmarked for housing for people with substance use disorders.

The appropriation last year came to fruition on Tuesday where city and state officials broke ground for the Families in Transition’s Family Willows Substance Use Treatment Center and Recovery Housing in Manchester. The expanded treatment center and recovery housing focuses on women, and mothers with children dealing with the opioid crisis. It’s expected to provide treatment for about 400 women. Gov. Chris Sununu and U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan attended the groundbreaking ceremony.

Feltes said the lack of funding for affordable housing is a “workforce, jobs, and competitiveness issue.” Testimony from leading experts on affordable housing in the state said all three areas are connected and important for New Hampshire’s future.

Without affordable housing in the state, people have trouble finding a place to live and workers end up living farther away from their jobs. Sometimes that’s too much for employees, so companies are left with an inadequate workforce, and without a strong workforce, or affordable housing, the state won’t be able to convince businesses to come and set up shop.

“You’ll hear about how we need a stronger workforce and affordable housing to keep the young working families that are demographically and economically needed as we move forward,” Feltes said.

Feltes is right. Lawmakers have heard testimony and had meetings from advocacy groups, government agencies, and political experts on how New Hampshire’s aging population will impact housing, transportation, and health care costs.

Already, workers are feeling the crunch of high housing costs, spending approximately 60 to 75 percent of their income on housing each month, according to Elissa Margolin, director of Housing Action NH, a coalition of organizations and businesses advocating for expanded workforce and affordable housing options.

Currently, the statewide median rent in New Hampshire is approximately $1,206 a month, she said, which is a 15 percent increase from five years ago. The vacancy rate, a factor in what’s driving the rising rents, is at 2 percent statewide and about 1 percent near the larger job centers.

The Granite State has already fallen behind the rest of New England and most of the country in terms of providing funding for affordable housing.

Rhode Island voters recently approved a $50 million bond for their state’s housing trust fund. They previously issued a $25 million bond in 2012 and a $50 million bond in 2006. Vermont uses a percentage of their real estate transfer tax for its housing trust fund, which is about $9 million a year.

In Maine, which has a similar population size to New Hampshire and similar workforce challenges, regularly funds its trust fund through their real estate transfer tax, with about $6 million invested annually. In 2009, a $50 million bond was approved, followed by another $15 million bond in 2015.

Connecticut and Massachusetts have also recently appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars a year to affordable housing.

Dean Christon, executive director of NH Housing Finance Authority, said the fund gives them “a lot of flexibility into how these dollars are being used.” They can be spent on housing from homeless shelters to senior housing to workforce rental housing.

David Juvet, senior vice president of public policy for the NH Business and Industry Association, said for the businesses he talks to, workforce and housing are the top issue for them.

When asked by Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, if the state should have “some skin in the game,” he responded that “there is some legitimate policy reason why the state should be involved with helping to assist economic development.”

The issue of affordable housing, workforce development, and business competitiveness of the state is usually a bipartisan issue. Everyone wants to see New Hampshire succeed. Affordable housing, especially when it comes to providing relief for the substance abuse crisis, also receives bipartisan support.

The bill only had Democratic support though, including Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Woodburn and House Democratic Leader Steve Shurtleff.

So why aren’t Republicans jumping on board? Well, it’s most likely the price tag of the legislation — $25 million can be a hard sell. During the hearing, Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley asked a witness if they would the measure if it were a different amount.

The committee also has to tackle a more pressing issue with the unanticipated charge costing the state millions of dollars to convert several state-owned buildings to natural gas after Concord Steam Corp. announced plans to close this year. The Senate Capital Budget Committee will her testimony on that bill in the coming weeks.

Ultimately, the committee unanimously voted on an amendment to changed the $25 million appropriation to the Affordable Housing Fund to only $5 million, and then they recommended that the bill “ought to pass” when it goes to the Senate soon.

Some activists say any little bit can help “move the needle” some more.

“We need the state’s oar int he water to help steer the ship,” said Evelyn Whelton of the Mount Washington Valley Housing Coalition. “A small push at the state level would influence housing growth and send a signal to businesses and those who want to move here, that we are engaged in economic development and are serious about it.”

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