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N.H. affordable housing advocates want details about Sununu’s $100 million plan

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In New Hampshire, there isn’t enough housing available to meet demand. This longtime shortage has led to a tight market for renters and potential buyers in the state.

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A new plan outlined by Gov. Chris Sununu in his State of the State address last week would allocate $100 million dollars in federal funding toward incentives designed to build more housing.

Elissa Margolin is the director of Housing Action New Hampshire, a nonprofit that promotes solutions for the state’s affordable housing crisis. NHPR’s Morning Edition host Rick Ganley spoke with Margolin about the governor’s new plan.

Takeaways

  • Housing advocates are waiting to hear more about plan details to make sure that the injection of funding will lead to more workforce and affordable housing.
  • Sununu says $60 million would be available to developers through flexible grants to help them finish multifamily housing projects that are already under construction.
  • With this plan, $30 million would go toward rewarding municipalities that approved new housing projects within a six-month time period. Margolin says she believes that towns will want to take advantage of this funding and approve projects more quickly.
  • Funding will also be available for demolition projects. Margolin says this could be helpful for communities looking to build more sustainable housing, but it’s important to know the details behind how this grant money will be distributed so lower-income housing that is already serving the workforce won’t be removed.

Transcript

Rick Ganley: The governor said during his speech last week that he wants to put $60 million toward finishing multifamily housing projects that are already under construction in the state. What kind of roadblocks are there to finishing these projects and how would this funding help specifically?

Elissa Margolin: We're really waiting for those details, because ultimately we really need to understand how these programs are going to work. We need developers at the table to see if these programs make sense for them. But as the governor described in the State of the State address, $60 million would be flexible grants that would match other investments for multifamily housing projects that are all shovel ready. And we know that there are a number of these around the state.

Rick Ganley: So is there evidence that developers specifically, as opposed to other stakeholders, need this kind of significant financial help?

Elissa Margolin: I think there's evidence that these kinds of resources will provide incentives for developers to build more affordable options.

Rick Ganley: Now, I know that the plan outlined so far doesn't include specific provisions around workforce or affordable housing, as opposed to housing at any higher price point. Do you have any worries that there should be some guardrails around what kind of projects that this housing would incentivize?

Elissa Margolin: Again, we do need to see the details of these proposals. In exchange for some of this capital, what kind of outcomes is the state talking about? Ultimately, we know we have a supply side problem here in the state, Rick. So when you add supply to the mix, hopefully that should bring down costs, and that's important. But we also know that we need to build for those folks who are earning incomes that are keeping them out of an affordable market. So we hope that we share that priority with the governor.

Rick Ganley: With this plan, I know, $30 million would go toward rewarding municipalities that approved new housing projects more quickly. Local planning boards routinely deny new housing projects that can result in lengthy appeals by developers, dropped projects and so on. Do you think it's realistic to expect that towns that have historically resisted building more housing would jump on board with the promise of new funding?

Elissa Margolin: I do. I think that there have been policy proposals like this in play for quite a while that uses the carrot approach, as the governor said in his address, to bring municipalities at the table who are ready to respond to that market demand for more affordable options in the community.

Rick Ganley: What would you like to see from towns that might take advantage of this extra funding?

Elissa Margolin: We'd like to celebrate 'our yes in my backyard' communities. We're convinced that those communities that are making these kind of investments now are the ones with the vibrant downtown village centers, the ones that have sustainable workforce for their region and are the ones to emulate.

Rick Ganley: I know the final $10 million in this plan would go toward demolishing vacant and dilapidated buildings. New Hampshire's housing stock is quite old. What kinds of regulations could towns adopt or other steps could the state be taking that would allow them to develop more modern and safer housing?

Elissa Margolin: I think it's important to realize that it's often multifamily developers that are cleaning up brownfields, perhaps areas in a community that could use some extra resources to do some environmental cleanup. There's also options to engage in land conservation while building more dense housing in a community. Often, these kind of roadblocks are an extra expense and ones that towns can't afford. So hopefully this demolition grant could be available for communities who want to address those issues and take on those expenses. I will say it's important again to get the details because we don't want to remove housing that are currently serving workforce or folks who are earning lower incomes. So again, important to get some of the details around these broad proposals.

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