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N.H. Housing Council’s Two Big Goals: More Affordable Housing, Brief Experiences with Homelessness

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New Hampshire’s Council on Housing Stability has two big goals for its strategic plan: Increase available housing by 13,500 units by 2024 and ensure that homelessness is rare, brief and one-time.  

The plan includes a number of recommended policies to reach those goals: easing regulatory barriers to affordable housing development, establishing tax incentives for development, protecting tenants from eviction and improving housing stability for those at risk of homelessness. 

Gov. Chris Sununu convened the council at the end of last year to replace the N.H. Interagency Council on Homelessness and update the state’s last homelessness plan, which was written in 2006. 

Numbers That Tell New Hampshire’s Housing Story: 

  • This year, 40% of rental households are paying 30% or more of their household income on rent. Lower-income families are likely to  pay an even higher percentage of their household income towards rent.
  • New Hampshire’s two-bedroom vacancy rate is 0.6 %
  • New Hampshire has seen a 20% increase in homelessness since 2019. 
  • Over the past five years, the rate of households leaving the homelessness system declined. Only 37% of households were able to leave homelessness for permanent stable housing in 2019. 

Elissa Margolin is the director of Housing Action New Hampshire and served on the council. She says progress, if it happens, needs to come from multiple places.  
“You need resources, a friendly policy landscape, and cultural acceptance and commitment to actually doing something about this,” she says.  

Margolin says she’s looking forward to working with state legislators to create and pass policies that incentivize municipalities to create more workforce and affordable housing. The House narrowly tabled a bill that would have offered those types of incentives on an opt-in basis during the last legislative session. 

The strategic plan includes other proposals to increase housing, such as identifying ways to repurpose vacant commercial real estate to add to the available housing stock. 

In addition to focusing on promoting new development, weatherizing and renovating older homes, Mayor George Hansel of Keene wants to look at local zoning changes to convert commercial property into residential housing. 

“Any kind of incentives or ways that we can promote creating new housing units for private developers, we’re going to do and take advantage of,” he says. 

Hansel says he hears from local business owners that a lack of affordable housing in the area is “the issue that’s preventing our economic growth,” and contributing to the lack of an available workforce. 

Hansel, who served on one of the Council’s working groups, says homelessness is also a priority for him. He says since Keene is the population center for the southwestern part of the state, the city handles a lot of homelessness services for the region. 

“The need has been growing,” he says. “It grew throughout COVID, and the lack of stable, affordable housing just exacerbated that issue.”  

The plan emphasizes preventive strategies for homelessness, such as recruiting landlords and providing financial incentives for leasing units to households that use a rental assistance voucher and repurposing property for affordable and supportive housing.   

Margolin says the plan would put 200 new supportive housing units in the pipeline for formerly unhoused people over three years. 

“We'll need an infrastructure that supports that,” she says. She says that infrastructure includes more social workers and housing advocates at homeless service agencies to help transition people into a supportive housing environment.

The council proposed several steps to execute its plan, including appropriating $45 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan. The state received about $1.5 billion dollars from the plan

Additional steps include funding a project manager, providing incentives to landlords who enroll in rental assistance partnerships and creating bridge funding for people waiting on housing vouchers. 

Read the full plan below: 

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