Advocates continue push for affordable housing

Starting in July, every New Hampshire municipality must allow for the development of housing priced low enough for young workers.

A law aiming to stop the so-called graying of New Hampshire – a demographic phenomenon that sees young people moving to other states – was approved in the last session of the Legislature. As written, the law doesn’t allow the state to impose any sanction on a town or city that denies the building of homes, condominiums and apartments for young workers, advocates for affordable housing said in an interview with The Telegraph’s editorial board.

The law allows developers who were denied or restricted in the building of affordable housing to seek remedy in court. That will hold municipalities’ feet to the fire, the advocates said. Towns “need to stop saying young people are a scourge on a community and are going to bankrupt us,” said Peter Francese, director of demographic forecasts for the New England Economic Partnership.

Cities have welcomed housing for low- to moderate-income families, but towns typically don’t because they’re certain that an influx of young workers with children will raise property tax rates through higher education costs, Francese said.

But those fears are mislaid, because declines in student enrollment – as seen in Nashua over the past eight years – don’t decrease education costs, Francese said. Public education costs are static despite demographic changes, he said.

Because of this misconception, rural towns particularly miss out on the advantages of constructing housing that would accommodate young workers, Francese and the other advocates said.

Keeping young workers to balance the state’s demographic is the underlying mission of the advocates who met with the editorial board. They included members of Greater Nashua Workforce Housing Coalition; the tax-exempt public corporation New Hampshire Housing Financial Authority; and Mark Fougere, who runs a planning and developing company in Milford.

A dearth of young workers slows a state’s economic growth and diminishes its vitality, the advocates said.

Even though the home construction market has slowed to a crawl because of the economy, communities still must focus on housing and economic development to ensure a sound future, Fougere said.

“The state’s economic well-being is dependent on a balanced workforce,” said George Reagan, housing awareness program administrator with NHHFA. “Housing is a part of that.”

The advocates are pushing for “workforce housing” – essentially housing that is affordable to a family with household income of $90,000, the median household income for New Hampshire. For Hillsborough County, for example, that means an affordable workforce dwelling should cost no more than $260,000.

The advocates acknowledged that the price tag might still be too high and $90,000 in income may not be enough for many families. But Reagan said the focus is not so much on numbers but the overall effort to create conditions for a balanced workforce.

Since the new law has no enforcement mechanism or penalties, the advocates are relying on the good faith of New Hampshire communities to comply. To spread the word, they intend to make presentations to civic groups, planning boards and at community meetings.

The law takes effect July 1, but lawmakers are moving to pass an amendment that could delay its implementation until next year. – ALBERT MCKEON/THE TELEGRAPH