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N.H.’s Tough Housing Market Has Been ‘A Long Time Coming’

Casey McDermott

Tried to buy or even rent a house in New Hampshire lately? If you had a tough time, you’re not alone. The housing market in the Granite State is tighter than ever, and as renters and potential buyers look for places to live, prices are too high or homes are just not available. 

In conjunction with NHPR’s series “New Hampshire's Housing Crunch,” All Things Considered host Peter Biello spoke with Elissa Margolin, director of Housing Action New Hampshire, who said the pandemic has not only made the housing market worse, but the problem has been brewing for more than a decade.

Two Numbers About The N.H. Housing Market Margolin Says You Should Know

  • Over half of the renters in New Hampshire pay 50% or more of their monthly income.
  • Homelessness hasincreased by over 20% since 2019 in New Hampshire. Margolin says it’s related to the tight rental market.

Three Ideas To Keep In Mind

  • It’s not new: Housing has been an issue in New Hampshire since the housing bubble burst in the late 2000s. Millennials waited to get into the homeownership market and some retirees shifted to the rental market, leaving few rentals available.
  • Pandemic uncertainty: During the pandemic, many people who might’ve considered selling their home decided not to because of the uncertain market, so fewer homes were available for potential buyers.
  • The short-term rental situation: Many communities are in a bind right now, Margolin says. They have to decide to what extent they want to allow short term rentals. On one hand, they’re good for tourism - which New Hampshire's economy relies upon. On the other hand, they take homes off the market for long term renters. A large amount of short term rentals means that there are fewer homes in areas that rely heavily on the tourism industry. 

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Transcript Of The Conversation: 

Peter Biello: This is All Things Considered on NHPR, I'm Peter Biello. More people across New Hampshire are struggling to find an affordable place to live as there continues to be a housing shortage and the state's tight housing market is driving up rental prices. And NHPR's series New Hampshire's Housing Crunch is taking a look at how this is affecting people and communities across the state and what we can do about it. Elissa Margolin is the director for Housing Action New Hampshire, a coalition of stakeholders seeking to improve housing policy in the state. She's with us now to talk more about how this housing crunch is turning into a crisis. Thank you very much for speaking with me.

Elissa Margolin: It's a pleasure to be with you, Peter.

Peter Biello: There's been a longtime shortage of affordable housing that's led to this current housing crunch. Can you give us some context for how the state got to this place where people are really struggling to find a place to live?

Elissa Margolin: You're correct that people are really struggling right now, but it has been a long time coming, so to say. Ever since the housing bubble burst in 2007-2008, many New Hampshire families moved out of the homeownership market and into the rental market. At the same time, Millennials, either by choice or because of carrying the burden of student loan debt, were waiting to purchase and get into the homeownership market and retirees were deciding to rent instead of to buy. And we created the perfect storm, did not keep up with demand and landed with a very, very crowded and now very expensive rental market.

Peter Biello: And to what extent has the pandemic made it worse?

Elissa Margolin: Well, the pandemic exacerbated the problem because many of our rental homes in New Hampshire are owned by small landlords who could choose whether or not they wanted to put those units out. And so the pandemic caused many small landlords to rethink whether or not they really needed that extra rental income. And so many units were not available on the market during the pandemic. In addition, many people didn't turn over their homes during that time as people were struggling to get into the homeownership market.

Peter Biello: And what about tourism, the impact of tourism? New Hampshire, of course, relies a lot on the tourist industry and maybe homeowners are relying more than they used to on things like short term rentals and Airbnb. Has that had an impact on the housing crisis here in New Hampshire?

Elissa Margolin: Well, it could be that those who have second homes in New Hampshire or vacation in New Hampshire may have stayed here longer than they otherwise would have as they were, perhaps, leaving places where they felt less safe during the pandemic. And so they also may have taken those units off the rental market during that time. And the demand for additional second home or short term rentals has increased and put pressures on communities that are finding themselves having to make that choice of being a community that supports a growth in the short term rental market or provides housing for the people who live, work and play there.

Peter Biello: There's been an increase in homelessness and those seeking housing assistance in New Hampshire. What have you heard from individuals and families about the challenges they're facing?

Elissa Margolin: One of the saddest outcomes of our tight rental market is the resulting increase in homelessness. New Hampshire is the second state in the nation to see a major increase in homelessness. Our increase is over 20 percent, something we should all be really concerned with for those who are escaping domestic violence, transitioning out of addiction and a recovery situation, or those who are struggling with enough finances to secure enough rent. This tight rental market has been very unfriendly.

Peter Biello: And are there geographic differences in how people are experiencing this affordable housing shortage?

Elissa Margolin: I mean, I think that there are parts of the state that are probably worse than others. But for the most part, this is a statewide problem. So, for those living in the North Country, the rental homes there are still out of reach, even though they might seem less expensive for those living on the Seacoast. For example, the cost of housing is more than people are earning and thus they are spending more than they should from their monthly income on housing costs. Over half of the renters in New Hampshire pay too much for their housing, meaning they pay over 50 percent of their monthly income towards housing.

Peter Biello: So what are some cultural or policy changes you'd like to see to help provide more affordable housing in New Hampshire?

Elissa Margolin: Well, at Housing Action New Hampshire, we focus on improving the policy and resource landscapes so that we can start to address the supply side problem we have in the Granite State. We'd like to see more investments made in the public/private partnership that help incentivize capital going into affordable housing development. We want to see municipalities who have 'Yes, in my backyard' attitudes so they can start to nurture the economic vitality of their communities. If we don't make these policy and resource changes, we're going to continue to drive our young people out of state, deal with these workforce shortages and really struggle to address our short housing supply.

Peter Biello: Elissa Margolin is the director of Housing Action New Hampshire. Thank you so much for speaking with me.

Elissa Margolin: Thanks, Peter.

Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Julia Furukawa is the host of All Things Considered at NHPR. She joined the NHPR team in 2021 as a fellow producing ATC after working as a reporter and editor for The Paris News in Texas and a freelancer for KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.

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