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Survey says affordable housing measures are gaining popularity across NH

Construction
Dan Tuohy
/
NHPR

Support for affordable housing is on the rise across the state, according to a new survey by Saint Anselm College. The survey results show that nearly four out of five New Hampshire adults surveyed think their communities need more affordable housing.

Max Latona, executive director of the Center for Ethics in Society, which ran the survey, said one of the most striking statistics was that 58% of people said their neighborhood needed more affordable housing.

“What we're seeing is a decline in NIMBYism, which is the idea that people want to support something in general or in the abstract, but not in their own neighborhood or block,” Latona said. “But now we're seeing that people are saying, ‘You know what, I even want more affordable homes in my own neighborhood.’ ”

He said there were multiple factors that could have shifted public opinion, but he suspected there was one primary cause.

“Probably the number one factor in my opinion is that all of us either have personally experienced or know someone who has personally experienced the housing affordability problem,” Latona said.

One such person is Victhória Sathler, a student at Great Bay Community College in Portsmouth. She started looking for apartments to rent in March, but months later, Sathler said she was still striking out.

“If they have [something] available, it’s not affordable. So it’s, like, unrealistic,” Sathler said.

Sathler, who is currently living in Boston, is supposed to start classes in three days. But she has yet to find a place to live near the college.

“The winter is coming, and the drive is really terrible. I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Sathler said. “I think I’m gonna drive every single day, 55 miles.”

Portsmouth is one city where the effects of the state’s housing shortage have been felt most acutely. Craig Welch, the executive director of the Portsmouth Housing Authority, also said the ubiquity of the housing crisis seemed to be having an impact.

I do believe attitudes are changing as people are more personally impacted by it, and family and loved ones are impacted by it, Welch said. “The younger folks who have been a part of our communities and grown up in our communities are moving out. We’re losing a lot of people [from] our communities, and they may not be able to ever move back.”

The Portsmouth Housing Authority opened 64 units of workforce housing last year. Welch said they attracted over 500 applicants.

But getting that workforce housing up was not easy. The Portsmouth Housing Authority tried to buy an old apartment building, but that didn’t work out.

“There was a 48 unit apartment building down the street from my office that had a Section 8 contract, so they were all affordable units,” Welch said. “We were unsuccessful at purchasing it. But the buyer was able to purchase it, cancel the Section 8 contract, and close it in 60 days.”

By contrast, Welch said, the new workforce housing took six years and $16 million dollars.

“Even with the success we’ve had, we’re definitely going backwards in the city,” Welch said.

The survey says the percentage of people who think New Hampshire should change its planning and zoning laws to allow for more affordable housing has more than doubled since 2020. Local zoning ordinances can slow or stop local development.

The Center for Ethics in Society also worked on the New Hampshire Zoning Atlas, which shows how much of the land in the state is zoned for housing development. The study for that project concluded that it can be difficult to find land zoned for less expensive housing options, such as smaller homes or duplexes.

The number of people who think development should be prevented and the state should stay the same has also gone down in the past few years.

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