How Much Housing Do We Need? New Hampshire’s Regional Housing Needs Assessments
The information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice and may no longer be accurate due to changes in the law. Consult NHMA's legal services or your municipal attorney.
Housing is a hot issue. In New Hampshire and throughout the country, scarce available housing is putting a strain on working families and preventing businesses from recruiting and retaining workers. Impacts from the housing crisis are rippling through communities. Studying housing issues is a core-function of NH’s Regional Planning Commissions (RPCs) and through 2022, each RPC has been hard at work preparing a Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) aimed at addressing this issue. These updates are a function of RPCs per NH State Statute, RSA 36:47.
This project, funded by the American Rescue Plan State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund Grant and coordinated by NH Office of Planning and Development (OPD), provides an in-depth look at housing needs within each region and across income levels. The RHNAs are built upon a common framework, extensive public outreach, data analysis and research. They will provide a foundation for change by including tools, recommendations, and strategies for local decision makers to address these issues in their communities.
Project Surveys and Kick-Off
In advance of the public launch of the RHNA process, the RPCs collaboratively created standard surveys to collect input from a wide range of stakeholder groups (residents, businesses, and social service providers) essential to understanding the on-the-ground conditions of our regional housing markets. These surveys were launched though a joint press release and housed on a central website developed by the NHARPC where a member of the public could access individual surveys for each region.
In the North County Region alone, over 420 people gave input on their housing needs, and those of their community, through our resident survey. The surveys are shining a light on some of the regions’ biggest challenges. In the Southwest Region, for example, among the 57 employers that responded to the business survey, approximately 80% of employers said that the housing supply shortage has impacted their ability to keep and attract workers and 63% of the employers reported a financial loss in the last 5 years due to staffing shortages.
Key survey and outreach questions were developed for various stakeholder groups including residents of the regions; employers and businesses; social service providers; housing professionals such as builders, contractors, and developers; landlord and property managers; and municipal leadership. Those key questions, intended to focus in on the expert knowledge and input of each group, have been used to inform focus group events and key informant interviews conducted by each RPC. Additionally, the RPCs have coordinated with other housing outreach and data collection occurring across NH such as the efforts of the Governor’s Council on Housing Stability.
Outreach and Engagement
Early in the RHNA development, the RPCs identified a common need for various components of outreach and engagement resources which included guidance for an inclusive process, common language for promotional materials, stakeholder contact lists, and best practices for outreach methods. The RPCs worked together to provide statewide resources that could be leveraged by each in RPC throughout their community outreach and engagement efforts. This included an Outreach Matrix, which identified key audience groups and stakeholders and the most efficient and effective outreach approach for each group. The group worked alongside the drafting of the stakeholder surveys to provide best practices for distribution, contact databases for stakeholders such as regional employers, and troubleshooting survey platform hosting across the nine regions.
The RHNA project’s central website has been instrumental in allowing statewide promotion while maintaining region-specific platforms and engagement opportunities. Ultimately, each RPC has unique and diverse community outreach and engagement strategies and tools but hosting common resources and leveraging statewide tools have been beneficial to the overall process and level of engagement. RPCs have hosted focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and roundtable events with employers, developers, municipal staff and volunteers, and other key stakeholders such as state agencies, housing advocates and realtors.
In the Rockingham Planning Commission region, staff recently hosted a series of municipal focus groups to discuss housing trends, challenges, and opportunities with our municipal staff and volunteers. Each focus group included representatives from various communities facing unique challenges which allowed for new and innovative ideas to be shared across municipal boundaries. The Rockingham Planning Commission has also been working to follow up with employers and community members to participate in spotlight interviews which will be featured in the RHNA.
Existing Conditions and Trends
To understand future housing needs, the RPCs must first understand existing conditions and trends are that impact each region. The RPCs identified demographic, socio-economic, and housing supply metrics that illustrate current trends. These metrics look at the people – who lives in each region, what they can afford for housing, and whether they rent or own their homes; as well as the housing choices available to them – how many housing units exist, how much do they cost, and are there affordable housing options for people who qualify for various housing assistance programs. For example, New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority’s 2021 NH Residential Rental Cost Survey Report showed that only 14 percent of 2-bedroom units in Strafford County were below what was considered affordable market rent. Meanwhile, homes in the Strafford Region were selling at an exceptionally fast pace – in 2021, single family homes spent an average of 23 days on the market, down from 49 days in 2019.
The nine RPCs are working closely with OPD, NH Housing, and Root Policy Research to reduce duplicative efforts, expand each partner’s data analysis capability, and ensure comparable data is available from region-to-region. Staff from each of the RPCs have analyzed statewide data from various sources including the U.S. Census Bureau and Department of Housing and Urban Development; NH Housing Finance Authority, Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau, Department of Education, Secretary of State Vital Statistics, Department of Revenue Administration, Coalition to End Homelessness, Association of Realtors; Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and Zillow.
Current Housing Needs
Does available housing meet the needs of the current populations around the state and regions? Identifying current need builds upon the work described in the two previous sections –input gained from the outreach processes and broad, yet detailed, statistical data. For example, seventy-five percent (75%) of the responses received on the Employer Survey in the Lakes Region (86/115) indicated that a housing supply shortage was impacting their ability to attract or retain employees.
In addition to the availability of and waiting lists for income-restricted housing, the RHNA’s each assess the affordability of market-rate housing as a share of people’s income. Further, each region has characterized the quality of housing stock, overcrowding, and the specific needs of communities of interest, as well as potential impacts on affordability.
Communities of Interest, Concerns, and Segregation
As the Regional Planning Commissions set out to understand housing needs, they account for populations vulnerable to housing shocks. Population groups such as minorities, religious groups, people of specific familial status are protected by the Federal Fair Housing Act. Additional groups such as young and elderly persons are protected by the State of New Hampshire. The Commissions gathered location data and population trends on these groups to better understand the housing vulnerabilities they face.
The map included here demonstrates where minority populations live within the Southern New Hampshire Planning Commission’s (SNHPC) region. Using a standard deviation calculation, commissions can determine census tracts where populations are living in high concentrations. When several populations are measured together, an index can be created to identify “Communities of Concern.” RPCs are doing so for low income, minority, limited-English proficient, senior, disabled, and no car access populations within their region. SNHPCs results identified many groups overlap and that the populations were largely concentrated in Manchester’s City Center.
This analysis helps the RPCs to explore housing needs specific to areas under distress from the combination of housing vulnerabilities and to identify solutions and housing strategies municipalities can use to address disparate housing conditions.
Future Housing Needs
The RHNA will also be informed by trends and shocks with potential to influence future housing needs. Some conditions are supported by long standing demographic and lifestyle trends, such as aging demographics driving future housing needs for smaller and more accessible homes. The RPCs are in close coordination with consultant Root Policy Research, who is modeling the state’s projected population and housing needs to be included in the RHNAs.
The largely unexpected, COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted the dynamics of the state’s housing with increases in cost, more out-of-state buyers, a building trades workforce shortage, and supply chain challenges for essential building materials. The effects were felt in housing markets across all regions. For example, in Strafford County, the annual median price for single family homes went from $305,000 in 2020 to $360,000 in 2021 – an 18% increase. Communities and regions across the state need to be better prepared for the next new trend or shock than when the COVID-19 pandemic started.
Together, the RPCs are identifying a short list of additional future conditions to consider in the RHNAs. These include the state of the short-term rental market, student fluctuation in college towns, construction costs, economic disruptions affecting supply and demand, federal monetary policy, federal legislation, and climate change impacts and related climate migration. Although each trend or shock will vary in its impact across the regions of the state, the RHNAs share a foundation of resources.
Fair Share Allocation of Workforce Housing Needs
New Hampshire Statute (RSA 674:59) requires that municipal zoning ordinances and land use regulations “provide reasonable and realistic opportunities for the development of workforce housing.” RSA 674:59, III, further states that a municipality is in compliance if its “existing housing stock is sufficient to accommodate its fair share (emphasis added) of the current and foreseeable regional need for (workforce housing) ...” It is essential, therefore, to develop a reasonable and defensible methodology to estimate the region’s overall workforce housing need and each community’s fair share to allow municipalities to evaluate their compliance with the workforce housing law. Further, this information aids development of local master plans and ensures housing needs of all existing and future residents are considered when adopting or amending local land use ordinances and regulations.
Recognizing the importance of the unified effort to address New Hampshire’s pressing housing needs, the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority (CDFA) contracted with Root Policy Research, a nationally recognized firm with extensive expertise in housing related issues to assist the RPCs in developing a robust fair share housing methodology. Root Policy is working with a subcommittee comprised of representatives from the state’s RPCs and OPD to conduct a “peer review” of other states with similar workforce housing statutes to identify fair share housing allocation scenarios for consideration so that a methodology best suited to the distinct needs of New Hampshire can be developed. It is anticipated that this unprecedented effort will be completed in the early fall of 2022.
Housing Choice Opportunities and Barriers
For many of those that call New Hampshire home, housing costs are often shocking and housing availability appears to be quite limited. Interestingly, many residents across the state have shared that there is not enough affordable housing yet are uncertain how to help their communities grow while maintaining their community charm. This section of the RHNA is intended to identify barriers and to provide opportunities to increasing affordable housing. Barriers may be due to limited infrastructure, restrictive attitudes, or out-of-date regulations. Opportunities to increase housing may come in the form of innovative zoning allowances, collaborative approach to processing development requests, or improving infrastructure. For example, some communities in the Nashua Region rely on private wells and septic systems, which limits how many housing units can be built and increases the cost of development, while others have access to municipal water and sewer service, which can support higher density housing.
New housing units benefit residents the most when they are located near essentials such as jobs, transportation, healthcare, and schools. “Opportunity areas” refers to places where residents have easy access to amenities correlated with health, educational achievement, and economic stability. To consistently identify these opportunity areas across the state, the RPCs collaborated to select specific, relevant indices that measure transportation, housing, and job availability. Understanding barriers and identifying opportunities, for housing and for people, is the key to this section.
Housing Solutions Toolbox
The current RHNA effort places emphasis on implementing change and providing resources to enable the housing New Hampshire communities’ need. There are many tools available for municipalities to support and encourage a variety of housing opportunities, but they can be difficult to implement or promote, especially in smaller communities without staff to support some of the more complex tools. The goal of the housing toolbox is to develop clear and concise descriptions of the tools that outline how a tool can be used, how to get started, things to keep in mind, and provide examples and success stories about how the tools have been used in other New Hampshire communities. Different tools may be included or emphasized in the individual RHNAs developed by each RPC, and all will be included in an interactive, online-based housing toolkit to be completed in early 2023.
Some examples of the tools to be included in the toolbox include Cluster Development (or Open Space) ordinances, Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) ordinances, Planned Unit Developments, Tax Increment Finance (TIF) districts, Workforce Housing ordinances, and the development of Housing Commissions. Basically, the intent of the toolbox is to provide communities with a straightforward set of tools to assist in the implementation of the housing strategies that they may wish to implement in the future.
To Learn More
Interested in learning more or getting involved? Reach out to your Regional Planning Commission. www.nharpc.org/rhna/