NASHUA – Working families are increasingly facing home prices that are beyond their reach, according to a newly _issued report by the Mayor’s Task Force on Housing.
“This housing problem is not just a problem for the low-income (residents). This problem goes across the community,” said Donnalee Lozeau, who led the yearlong study of housing in the city.
The median sale price for a home in the city more than doubled in the past eight years, rising from $96,000 in 1995 to $223,000 in the first half of 2003, according to data from the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority.
The most expensive part of the city was the southwestern corner, where the median sale price was $385,000, fueled by new construction of large houses. The least expensive area of the city includes the houses and condominiums along _Amherst Street, with a median sale price of $135,000.
The report’s findings will be little surprise to anyone who has tried to buy a house in the city in recent years.
The rapidly climbing prices affect the city’s business climate, restricting business expansion, the report found. Employers face challenges in filling positions because of the high housing costs, and those costs push up salaries, putting firms at a disadvantage compared to those in communities with lower housing costs.
The problem is acute for lower-paying jobs, but mid-level managers also “experience stress due to the lack of availability of housing,” according to the report. Long commutes also put a strain on employees and make them less likely to work _additional hours to complete projects.
“It’s definitely an issue that is on business people’s mind,” said Chris Hodgdon, president of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a very substantial issue.”
The 40-page report examines the current situation and the regional impact, and it recommends adopting specific development practices to _address the issue.
There are no silver bullets, but the report _instead recommends long-term practices, such as encouraging developments in which people of mixed incomes live side by side. Another suggestion is to promote mixed-use developments that combine residential, retail and commercial spaces in one area.
Policymakers, city administrators, members of the planning and zoning boards and developers will have to work together to improve the situation, said Lozeau, the director of program and community development for Southern New Hampshire Services.
Community Development Director Kathy Hersh said recent guidelines such as the city’s downtown master plan advocate some of the same ideas suggested in the report, such as mixed-use developments.
The report also suggests a regional review of the situation.
Nashua is a relatively cheap place to live for people with higher-paying jobs in Massachusetts, many of whom have moved here. As a result, many people living in the city worry about being priced out of their homes or move away from the city and commute.
Other local residents continue to live in apartments here because they cannot find an affordable house, keeping other families out of the apartments they need.
The housing report uses several case studies to put a human face to the problem, such as a single mother who works as a librarian, earning $29,000 per year and raising three children.
If the woman allocates 30 percent of her _income to housing, she would be able to spend $725 per month, which means only 16 percent of the rental market offers options suiting her needs, according to the report. If the woman tried to buy a home, her options would be even more limited.
The report also found that only 57 percent of the city’s 2,845 municipal employees live in the city, with some driving nearly 90 minutes one way to get to work.
“When your civil servants cannot live in the community they serve, the social capital in your community diminishes,” Lozeau said. “People _invest their time and energy and ideas in the community in which they live, not the community where they work.”
The limited availability of housing is another problem, along with the cost. Potential homebuyers have so few options to consider in their price range, Lozeau said.
“It’s not the people that most people expect to be having this struggle,” Lozeau said.