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Why buying or renting a home in NH feels so out of reach

A row of grey townhomes in Portsmouth under construction
Dan Tuohy
The latest monthly report from the New Hampshire Association of Realtors found that median sales prices reached record highs in June: $495,000 for single family homes and $400,000 for townhouse-condo properties.

No, you’re not the only one thinking it: Finding a place to live in New Hampshire is tough.

New Hampshire Housing and the New Hampshire Association of Realtors recently released a pair of reports to validate your frustration.

The latest Residential Rental Cost Survey Report from New Hampshire Housing shows the vacancy rate for rental units remains near a historic low, with less than one percent of units open. A more balanced market, according to New Hampshire Housing, would see a vacancy rate of 5% for renters and landlords — but that hasn’t been the case for more than a decade.

Things aren’t looking much better for prospective homebuyers. The latest monthly report from the New Hampshire Association of Realtors found that median sales prices reached record highs in June: $495,000 for single family homes and $400,000 for townhouse-condo properties. Meanwhile, the realtors associationsaid low inventory and high borrowing rates hurt market activity overall.

Rob Dapice, New Hampshire Housing’s executive director, said the difficult headwinds for homebuyers are having cascading effects on the rental market.

“Higher income households are remaining renters, which puts increased pressure on the rental market,” Dapice said, “because they're not vacating those units and making them available to low and moderate income renters.”

There also continues to be a mismatch in affordability for renters. Only about 7% of two-bedroom units statewide are considered “affordable” for those earning the statewide median income of roughly $51,000. The average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is a little over $1,700 a month, according to New Hampshire Housing. But for that to be considered “affordable” by traditional standards, renters would need to earn about $70,000 a year.

While these pressures are straining renters statewide, the divide between renters’ earnings and what they’re expected to pay for housing is particularly stark in Carroll, Sullivan and Coos counties, according to the New Hampshire Housing report.

Dapice said it’s also worth noting the steep increase in rents in Grafton County, where there’s been an 82% increase in the median two-bedroom rent in the last five years.

“I think those numbers are playing out every day when we hear about people losing their housing and being forced to move in with relatives or friends and potentially facing homelessness,” he said.

Mackenzie Maines has been looking for an apartment to rent since October, but has struggled to find somewhere that’s both affordable and hospitable. She said she and her boyfriend both have full-time work.

“It is a fight to get any nice apartment that pops up; they're usually being signed the day they post them,” Maines said.

Maines is living with family until she can find something.

A Housing Needs Assessment released by New Hampshire Housing earlier this year calculated that the state needs more than 23,000 additional units to meet its current needs. By 2040, New Hampshire Housing says the state will need 90,000 additional homes.

Some communities are taking steps to address the shortage — for example, by changing zoning rules to encourage more housing or to allow new kinds of developments.

Dapice said he has also been encouraged to see an increase in permits for multifamily housing, and New Hampshire Housing is taking steps to finance more affordable multifamily units. Still, he said, the Granite State will need to do much more to close the gap.

“The challenge is it takes time for zoning ordinances to change and and then it takes time for new housing to be built,” Dapice said, noting that change at the local level is still very important.

The lack of homes can put a strain on the economy in many ways, Dapice said — making it hard for businesses to recruit employees, hard for people to afford to earn enough to grow their families and hard for people to hold onto a roof over their heads, period.

“It just stands to reason that the people who are most vulnerable in society, as housing is kind of priced out of their reach, that they're going to become housing insecure or possibly homeless,” Dapice said. “And that's unfortunately what we've seen with higher rates of homelessness and housing insecurity in the last couple of years.”

NHPR's Kate Dario contributed reporting.

Olivia joins us from WLVR/Lehigh Valley Public Media, where she covered the Easton area in eastern Pennsylvania. She has also reported for WUWM in Milwaukee and WBEZ in Chicago.
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