New fund seeks to spur affordable housing development in Monadnock Region

Monadnock Interfaith Project spearheads public-private initiative

A group of Monadnock Region activists and officials have banded together and are working on a proposal to create a housing development trust fund to help combat the crippling scarcity of affordable housing in the Granite State.

The research team, comprising representatives of local housing authorities, elected officials, people who have experienced housing insecurity and members of the Monadnock Interfaith Project, formed about a year and a half ago. They began drafting a concept for a fund that would incentivize housing developers to build and price units at rates affordable for people earning less than 60 percent of the area median income.

These types of funds are established by local governments that receive ongoing, dedicated sources of public money to support the production and preservation of affordable housing. The goal is to increase opportunities for people to access decent, affordable homes, per the Monadnock Interfaith Project website.

According to the Housing Trust Fund Project — an initiative by the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Community Change to help local and state governments develop affordable housing trusts — these funds are governed by an elected body, which could be a state legislature, county commission or a city council.

The median area income in Cheshire County is $64,686 for a two-person household, according to the most recent census. For a home to be affordable, rent should cost only about 30 percent of one’s income, said Angela Pape, community organizer of the Monadnock Interfaith Project.

The interfaith project is a nonprofit coalition of area congregations and organizations that has led projects to increase social justice and tolerance in the region.

The Monadnock housing fund would likely come from a pool of public dollars — which could be raised through fees, taxes or allocated from an existing budget — and private funding from local organizations, though the group is still ironing out the details, Pape said. Money could then be drawn from that pot and loaned at low interest rates to developers, who could also apply for low-income housing tax credits.

Construction costs

Tom Julius, chairman of the interfaith project, explained that one of the key obstacles to creating affordable housing is the difficulty developers face in making a return on investment on low-priced units.

“The cost of building a unit is the same no matter what you rent it at,” he said. “This would offset the construction costs.”

A housing trust fund wouldn’t represent an answer to the multi-faceted housing crisis; Julius described this as a long-term strategy to increase the housing stock. To work, the fund would require a dedicated stream of public revenue that is renewed annually, he added.

“There is no one solution. What is needed are new, creative, multiple strategies addressing today’s housing needs,” he said. “Doing things the way they have always been done will only perpetuate the current state of affairs.”

According to NH Housing, the rental vacancy rate in Cheshire County for a two-bedroom apartment is 0.6 percent as of 2022, whereas a healthy market would have that figure at 5 percent.

In April, Taylor Caswell, New Hampshire’s business and economics affairs commissioner, said at a news conference supporting Gov. Chris Sununu’s $100 million InvestNH housing fund that the housing crisis had been exacerbated by an unemployment rate that for months has hovered around historic lows.

“This combination is a significant threat to our economy,” he said.

The InvestNH fund, which the Executive Council approved in April, is divvying out funds to municipalities to address housing shortages, and to developers to encourage the construction of more multifamily dwellings.

Though a housing development trust fund would be new to the region, it’s not without precedent.

Manchester established a $3.4 million fund of its own in June using money from the American Rescue Plan Act.

And a 2009 fund established in Tompkins County, N.Y. — formed in partnership between the city of Ithaca and Cornell University — has resulted in the creation or rehabilitation of more than 800 affordable housing units, according to the county website. Tompkins County has a population of about 100,000 compared to Cheshire County’s roughly 75,000 people.

Representatives of the Tompkins County Community Housing Development Fund could not be reached Thursday for comment.

The Monadnock Region proposal is a work in progress, and Julius said the group still needs to nail down the funding model and how it would be governed. In the coming months, he said they intend to bring the proposal before public officials to garner interest in the fund and gain input.

And though a trust fund won’t solve the scarcity problem, Julius said it would at least be a step in the right direction.

“It’s about creating better access to housing that’s affordable to people at those lower incomes,” he said. “It’s hard to find a place to rent at all … but we want to make sure that these individuals have an affordable place to live.”

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