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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. 

NH Ranked Best State to Raise Children, But Some State Officials Say More Needs to Be Done

A new report ranks New Hampshire as the best state to raise children based on economic well-being, health care, and education, among other factors. The Granite State has consistently been ranked one of the top states for families to have kids in other studies. Because of the high ranking, some state officials are cheering the statistic, but others are cautious that the state shouldn’t be complicit when tackling children’s issues.

The report released last week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that health care was the biggest difference between the highest- and lowest-ranking states. Based on data from the Population Reference Bureau, the report ranked New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Vermont as the best states overall, and Mississippi, New Mexico, and Louisiana at the bottom of the list.

Image Credit: Annie E. Casey Foundation 2017 Kids Count Data Book

A map in the report highlights clear regional trends, with the South accounting for 15 of the 20 lowest-ranking states. Only Virginia was ranked in the top half of the states. Also, other than Rhode Island, every New England state was ranked within the top 20. Those regional categories continued when broken down by each category, including economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

Another study, released at the end of May, from Save the Children, ranked New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and New Jersey as the top three states “where childhood is least threatened.” New Mexico, Mississippi, and Louisiana rounded out the bottom of the list.

Those results are in close agreement to personal finance website WalletHub’s 2017’s Best & Worst States to Raise A Family released in January. That study named North Dakota, New Hampshire, and Vermont as the best states to raise a family, and once again, the same three states were at the bottom: New Mexico, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Why is the Northeast doing so well and the Southern states aren’t? If you break down the categories individually, you’ll see varying state dynamics and different policy priorities.

According to the Annie E. Casey report, 2015 childhood poverty rates were lowest in New Hampshire at 11 percent, while Mississippi’s was the highest at 31 percent. Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, and Vermont all tied for the lowest rate of teens not in school and or working, which was 4 percent. Louisiana’s rate was the highest at 11 percent.

When it comes to education, the report also found that while 50 percent of Massachusetts fourth-graders in public schools are unable to read proficiently, New Mexico’s rate is a staggering 77 percent. For context, the national average is 65 percent.

Some New Hampshire officials applauded that the state was ranked number one in the study, including Lorna Colquhoun, communications director for N.H. Division of Economic Development.

While appreciative for the recognition, Taylor Caswell — executive director of the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority — said not all families in the state are receiving the same benefits.

“[It] certainly makes us look great compared to some other states, but I would say my own experience is that the types of benefits it claims are not consistently seen across our small state,” he told NH Journal. “In my work I see a whole lot of room for improvement in areas of the state that don’t always show on the radar of broad national-scale rankings … and so when rankings like these come out it often can provide room for people to take their foot off the accelerator or move to some other issue or initiative, often at the expense of the families in those areas.”

Caswell took to Twitter to make his concerns known. The New Hampshire Democratic Party was quick to say that Caswell and Colquhoun’s tweets shows infighting within Gov. Chris Sununu’s administration.

Caswell said some areas the state needs to continue work on is early childhood education, access to job training, healthcare access, broadband coverage, and workforce housing.

“Accessing those things is not a consistent experience across the state and I consider those things to be among the most important in providing broad access to the state’s economy for all residents,” he said. “Maybe I’m just not easily satisfied.”

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Future of Community Development Block Grants for NH Unknown

If Congress doesn’t pass a long-term budget bill by the end of the month, federal funding for state infrastructure development or affordable housing might dry up, leaving cities and towns with less money in grants to fund these projects.

The Community Development Finance Authority (CDFA), the state agency that doles out those dollars, recently said it has to pause in handing out more than $2 million in community development block grants because Congress has yet to pass a continuing resolution to fund the federal government and its programs for the next year. They have an April 28 deadline.

“Towns across New Hampshire depend on these federal funds,” said Taylor Caswell, executive director of the CDFA, in a statement. “Dozens of local municipalities across the state use these resources to bring new jobs, help treat drug addiction, build workforce housing, and revitalize downtowns, among other important community and economic development projects.”

The CDFA has awarded more than $126 million in grants to projects across the state since 2003. The YMCA in Concord recently won a $500,000 federal grant for improvements on the building that hosts its child care facility and it’s assuming it will be approved by the governor and Executive Council.

However, money for four other organizations — including a child advocacy center renovation in Laconia and affordable housing in Exeter — might not receive funds, even though they would have if the CDFA had more funds. Those projects are suspended until Washington reaches a solution.

The state usually receives about $8 million each year in community development block grants and the CDFA typically finds out in January how much it will see that year. Yet, the funding for this year is in jeopardy since Congress’ stopgap spending plan expires at the end of April and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which administers the block grants to states, has yet to release funding figures for the year.

“When a resolution in Washington D.C. is reached and HUD provides specific allocation amounts for fiscal year 2017, and it has been determined that funding level is adequate, CDFA will move swiftly to finalize awards for the remaining four projects, as well as restart suspended application reviews,” the CDFA said in a statement. “CDFA deeply regrets this situation and is in touch with New Hampshire’s federal delegation in Washington D.C. to urge swift resolution of this matter.”

New Hampshire’s Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan have been fervent supporters of the community development block grants and since the CDFA’s announcement, they’ve been sounding the alarm in Congress, encouraging lawmakers to reaffirm their commitment to funding these grants.

They joined 40 other senators earlier this month in urging federal appropriators to include $3.3 billion in federal funding for the block grant program for the 2018 fiscal year budget.

“The CDBG program is one of the federal government’s most effective means to revitalize low- and moderate-income communities across the country,” the senators wrote in a letter. “The importance of this funding to meet the unique needs of local communities is widely recognized and we find it troubling that the President’s budget proposes to eliminate the program altogether.”

President Donald Trump’s “skinny budget” called for the elimination of the block grant program, which has been used extensively in New Hampshire, especially in the North Country for low-income, elderly, and disabled residents.

Shaheen and Hassan called Trump’s proposal to eliminate the program “misguided and harmful” at a Wednesday press conference at the CDFA headquarters in Concord.

“He talked about helping those communities that are struggling with job creation to make sure people have opportunities in the future,” Shaheen said. “Well, this is totally counterproductive to what he was talking about, and this is the budget he’s proposing.”

Hassan echoed Shaheen’s sentiments saying any changes to the program would be “devastating.”

“These cuts would be devastating for New Hampshire, and I’ll do everything in my power, along with Senator Shaheen, to make sure it never happens,” she said.

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