Housing Crunch a Challenge For Upper Valley Businesses

May 11, 2018

Rendering of a condominium project in Lebanon slated to open next year.

Affordable homes in the Upper Valley are getting harder and harder to come by. 

That was the headline from real estate experts at a meeting of local business and community leaders Friday morning in West Lebanon.

The number of homes for sale below $600,000 has fallen significantly over the past three years, said Buff McLaughry, an agent based in West Lebanon. Inventories at lower price points are declining most steeply, he said, both in the Lebanon-Hanover core region and farther south in Claremont.

On the rental side, vacancy rates are below national and state averages, hovering at around 2 percent. That’s an “extreme situation,” said Doug Kennedy, a consultant based in Norwich, VT. “I don’t think it could really get much lower,” he said. “The choices are really limited.”

Big employers in the area, including the state’s largest hospital and several industrial suppliers, say the housing crunch is adding to their hiring woes in an already tight labor market. Potential employees are discouraged by the high price points and lack of supply, they say.

The hospital, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, has been relying on traveling nurses to fill empty positions.

“It’s really urgent,” said Lebanon Planning Director David Brooks. He pointed to several new developments, though, that are either in the works or have recently opened up. In Lebanon alone, about 200 units have been built in the past five years, with about 1,000 more in the pipeline.

Many of these new developments are aimed at courting a demographic that's also a target of local employers: millennial workers, between the ages of 25 and 40.

Regionally, the Upper Valley is estimated to be short 5,000 to 6,000 homes. Waitlists for affordable housing are three to four years, said Andrew Winter, with Twin Pines Housing, a local non-profit housing developer. The wait for subsidized units is even longer, he said.

Twin Pines hosted the meeting Friday alongside Vital Communities, another Upper Valley non-profit.