Is Your Community Talking about Housing?

Sarah Wrightsman, Community Engagement Coordinator, NH Housing

Across the state, folks are talking about the impact of New Hampshire’s housing crisis. Renters are struggling to compete for the small number of available units, prospective homebuyers are being priced out of the market, young people are unable to put down roots, older residents are stuck in too-large homes, and employers are challenged to recruit and retain a qualified workforce. The effects of the housing market touch all of us.

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A Very Low Inventory of Rental and For-sale Homes

According to New Hampshire Housing’s 2022 Residential Rental Cost Survey, the median gross rent in New Hampshire for 2-bedroom units is $1,584 per month. That is a 25.8% increase over the past five years. With a vacancy rate of 0.3%, even if you can afford the median rent of a 2-bedroom unit, it will be a challenge to find one available. (A vacancy rate of 5% is considered a balanced market for tenants and landlords.)

Supply has not kept up with demand. New Hampshire faces a shortage of many thousands of homes needed to balance current supply with demand, and we'll need many thousands more to accommodate future population growth.

On the for-sale side, prices continue to rise due to the lack of inventory and high demand. Looking at the market between January and September 2022, the median purchase prices for all homes was $400,000 and for new homes, it was about $615,000, according to data from The Warren Group, filtered and analyzed by New Hampshire Housing.

Seeking Solutions

New Hampshire communities are talking about what they can do to address the lack of housing available to Granite Staters. Many communities are examining their land use regulations. Overly restrictive zoning and other land use regulations adopted over the past 30 years have contributed to the housing shortage. At the local level, zoning can be a powerful tool to leverage land use to ensure housing is affordable and available for state’s workforce and others that contribute to vibrant, thriving communities.

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Grants to Help Municipalities Expand Housing Opportunities

Housing Opportunity Planning (HOP) Grants are available to municipalities to hire consultants to work toward regulatory change. As part of Governor Sununu’s $100 million InvestNH initiative, $5 million was allocated to a grant program to analyze and update land use regulations to help increase housing development opportunities. The NH Department of Business and Economic Affairs contracted with New Hampshire Housing to administer this program.

Cities and towns can use these grants to study barriers to housing affordability in their zoning ordinances and other land use regulations, identify potential changes to regulations, and/or establish or update regulations in response to those findings.

HOP grant opportunities are available as follows:

Phase One: Needs Analysis and Planning Grants may be used to examine and understand housing, income, and demographic data, including housing market costs, housing units needed to meet future expected growth in a municipality and the region, and the affordability of a municipality’s housing for all income ranges. These needs analyses should be complementary to the regional planning commission’s regional housing needs assessment. Phase one grants may also be used to revise or create sections of the master plan that are related to housing.

Communities may apply for up to $25,000 for this phase. Applications will be accepted and awarded on a rolling basis until January 27, 2023 or when funds are exhausted, whichever occurs first. Awards will typically be made within 30 days of submission of a completed application.

Phase Two: Regulatory Audit Grants may be used to audit the municipality’s land use regulations and make recommendations for changes to promote housing development. Regulations to be evaluated may include, but are not limited to, zoning, subdivision regulations, site plan regulations, any provisions adopted under RSA 674:21 that are related to or impact housing development, local building codes, and local tax incentives, including RSA 79-E.

The audits may be structured to do any of the following tasks (these tasks are intended to be illustrative, not exclusive):

  • Identify barriers to housing development that may exist in standards or processes;
  • Identify outdated regulatory schemes;
  • Specify changes to existing regulations;
  • Identify opportunities for new regulations;
  • Cross-reference different regulations to ensure that they are not in conflict.

Communities may apply for up to $50,000 for this phase. Applications will be accepted and awarded on a rolling basis until June 30, 2023 or when funds are exhausted, whichever occurs first. Awards will typically be made within 30 days of submissions of a completed application.

Phase Three: Regulatory Development Grants may be used to create new regulations or revise existing regulations with the stated primary goal of increasing the supply of housing in the community.

Communities may apply for up to $100,000 for this phase. Applications will be accepted and awarded on a rolling basis until November 15, 2023 or when funds are exhausted, whichever occurs first. Awards will typically be made within 30 days of submissions of a completed application.

Municipalities may hire consultants using a competitive process or they may choose a consultant from a list of pre-qualified consultants, which will include their regional planning commission. This list can be found at www.NHHOPgrants.org.

Because we recognize each community is different and may be at different places in their housing conversations, municipalities may apply for whichever stage is best suited to their needs. Municipalities may also apply for more than phase at a time; for example, conducting the needs analysis and planning and regulatory audit phases simultaneously before moving on to regulatory development. Prior to applying, municipalities are invited to share their ideas with the Steering Committee by sending a concept paper or idea to info@NHHOPgrants.org.

Housing Academy

Community engagement is a critical component of this work, and participation in Housing Academy is a key benefit of this grant program. Developed by UNH Cooperative Extension, Housing Academy will provide education and community engagement training to all recipients of HOP grant funding. The program will support grantees as they develop their community engagement strategies.

In addition, grantees are encouraged to recruit up to three volunteers from the community to participant in Housing Academy, further broadening the municipality’s capacity to engage the community. Awardees are invited to provide community volunteers with a stipend for their participation.
Housing Academy will include webinars and online materials, in-person gatherings at New Hampshire Housing’s office in Bedford and place-based

training in various communities around the state. Community engagement techniques and tools will be taught so participants can develop and implement an engagement plan in their city or town. There will be opportunities for communities to share best practices and challenges and to learn from each other. 

More information about Housing Academy, including key dates for the program, can be found at NHHOPGrants.org/housing-academy.

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How Do We Talk About Housing?

A key first step to solving the housing crisis is conversation. Many communities struggle with how to bring their community together to have a meaningful and engaging conversation about housing. To support communities as they work through these challenges, New Hampshire Housing produced How Do We Talk About Housing: A Guide to Community Engagement and Grassroots Advocacy. This guide outlines a bottom-up, nine-step process accessible to anyone interested in facilitating a movement toward more inclusionary zoning practices in their community. The process begins with building relationships through conversation.

Recognizing housing commissions, committees, and task forces as a valuable vehicle for these community conversations, New Hampshire Housing has updated its Housing Commissions in New Hampshire: A Guide for Municipalities. It offers guidance to localities interested in harnessing the power of engaged citizen volunteers in conversations about housing.

Both of these resources are available online at NHHousing.org/publications. Many more resources like these will be available through Housing Academy, which will equip communities with the tools needed to tackle the housing crisis at the local level.

Conclusion

Municipalities interested in applying for a HOP grant are encouraged to reach out to the steering committee to discuss their idea prior to submitting. Visit www.NHHOPgrants.org for more information and to apply. The steering committee can be reached at info@NHHOPgrants.org.

For municipalities that aren’t quite ready to apply for a HOP grant, New Hampshire Housing has mini grants available to support housing education and advocacy efforts of local government. These grants can be used for technical assistance to explore housing-friendly land use regulations and may also be used to research the feasibility of starting a local or regional housing advocacy initiative. Find out more about New Hampshire Housing’s other grant programs at NHHousing.org/grant-opportunities.

man talking

Communities that are engaged in discussions about housing at the local level are also encouraged to talk with their regional planning commission or regional housing coalition. Regional housing coalitions that serve various communities around the stat include the Workforce Housing Coalition of the Greater Seacoast, the Mount Washington Valley Housing Coalition, and Vital Communities, which serves the Upper Valley. For information about groups working on housing-related issues around the state, go to NHHousing.org/housing-partners.

The housing shortage is a complex issue with many different solutions that should be tailored to the community’s needs. With the help of HOP grants, community leaders can begin to work to address the housing shortage by engaging with their citizens to determine the best outcome in their city or town. Solving the housing crisis ensures that our children will raise their children here, our businesses will flourish, and our communities will remain vibrant with attractive housing and new neighbors that will help to carry on New Hampshire traditions.

Sarah Wrightsman is the Community Engagement Coordinator with New Hampshire Housing.  She may be reach by phone at 603.310.9345 or via email at swrightsman@nhhfa.org