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NH housing report finds the rate of construction needs to double to meet demand

Pink scaffolding on a housing project.
Dan Tuohy / NHPR

It’s no secret affordable housing is difficult to find in New Hampshire. There’s more demand than supply and prices keep rising.

A new report from New Hampshire Housing finds that to meet that demand, the rate of construction for new units in the state needs to almost double. And in the next two decades, the state will need nearly 90,000 units.

New Hampshire Housing’s Executive Director Rob Dapice recently joined NHPR’s All Things Considered host Julia Furukawa to talk about what the state should do to meet its housing needs. Below is a transcript of their conversation.

An infographic shows the estimated number of housing units needed based on population growth from 2020-2040.
New Hampshire Housing
The infographic was taken from N.H. Housing's 2023 New Hampshire Statewide Housing Needs Assessment.


New Hampshire Housing regularly assesses the state's housing needs. What kind of housing would you like to see built and where should these new units be?

We'd like to see more of almost all kinds of housing built. There is no area of the state where housing isn't a problem. And there's no area of the state where we don't need more housing at different levels of affordability to meet the needs of different household sizes.

So I heard you say that we're really looking for housing—whatever variety it comes in. The majority of new developments we've seen across the state are probably considered luxury units. But we really do need more affordable housing. What are ways the state can incentivize developers to build affordable units?

Well, certainly the state can support the creation of more affordable housing through subsidy and spending. There's discussion in the legislature now and the governor has made a proposal in his budget for that purpose. I think that it's important to meet the needs of those people who are most affected by the really severe housing crisis that we face right now. However, one thing that the state and local towns and cities can do is simply make it easier to build, so that the market can more readily meet the needs of the state.

While we do go into some detail about the breakdown of new housing units that will be needed at various levels of affordability, I think it'd be a mistake to focus too much on that because more supply, even at the upper levels of affordability, even if that new supply includes a lot of luxury housing, [it] can make other existing housing units more affordable. And I think this goes to the ‘renting down’ phenomenon that we documented and quantified in the report, which identified the fact that families and households are remaining renters deeper into their lives and deeper into their careers as their incomes grow and they just can't find someplace else to buy. As a result, they stay in apartments that they would like to move out of. And those apartments, some of which are quite affordable, are not available to lower income renters.

The graph compares the number of renters to the number of units affordable per area median income in 2020.
New Hampshire Housing
The graph was taken from N.H. Housing's 2023 New Hampshire Statewide Housing Needs Assessment.

One of the more robust affordable housing programs in New Hampshire right now is InvestNH and New Hampshire Housing is helping to disperse this money to various groups, including municipalities. But there are towns that have been resistant to building more affordable housing. A common concern raised by residents is that they don't want the ‘character’ of their neighborhood to change. How do we get residents and communities to reconcile those opinions with the goal to build more housing?

Well, I think we hear that a lot. And it's understandable that people love the places that they live. I will say, though, that the reason that a lot of planning boards and town leaders are coming to us for help in solving these problems is because they recognize that while they love the place that they live, they need more housing and they need more kinds of housing in their communities so people can afford to stay there or afford to move back there.

But generally, people who are in favor of something like that don't come out to the planning board meetings. It's only the naysayers. And then some of those naysayers are especially vocal, and active and litigious. So I think there's a culture shift that needs to happen where people who recognize the need for this kind of housing and recognize how important it is, not only to their community, but to their businesses and their economy, are willing to come out and say publicly, ‘yes in my backyard.’

So we've talked a lot about what's being done and what needs to be done, but I'd like to hear some examples of change in local communities or cities that have helped with housing needs. What's going well?

There's a few communities like Dover, Exeter and Rochester that have really led the way. They've had housing conversations going on for some time. Exeter has had a housing commission. Dover, some years ago, revamped their zoning to allow for more creativity in meeting the housing needs of the state. There's a lot of communities where housing commissions are being formed or conversations are starting. [They] recognize the need for additional housing and think about how it might be achieved.

Michelle Liu is the All Things Considered producer at NHPR. She joined the station in 2022 after graduating from Northwestern University with a degree in journalism.
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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