(Opinion) Affordable housing, child care key to boosting workforce

New Hampshire can’t afford to shortchange solutions any longer

Young folks across New Hampshire are bearing the brunt of economic headwinds these days. Think about it. Our state is short at least 20,000 housing units, housing costs are skyrocketing and child care is either not affordable or not available to young families. All of this is leaving Granite Staters who want to start a career or a family in New Hampshire without many options.

The intersectionality and importance of the housing and child care crises cannot be ignored, and we simply cannot shortchange the solutions any longer. We need to stop thinking about these basic building blocks — a place to live and someone to care for your children while you work — as individual problems. If parents have to leave their jobs because they cannot find or afford housing or child care, these are economic problems, in desperate need of policy solutions. We must do everything we can to attract and retain the workforce of the future. The future economic vitality of our state depends on it.

Yet Granite Staters all across the state are struggling to simply live, participate in our economy and balance the needs of their family. Thankfully, young leaders in New Hampshire are stepping up to solve these economic hurdles with legislation like the Housing Champions Program (Senate Bill 145) and the Child Care for NH Working Families Act (Senate Bill 237). SB 237 seeks to mitigate the child care crisis by improving affordability to quality child care for more families, increasing support to child care providers (the workforce behind the workforce), and ensuring the state has the capacity to effectively serve working families.

The current child care crisis negatively impacts New Hampshire businesses and families, because if a family cannot find affordable child care, it may mean that both parents are not able to work full time, or even part time, without sacrificing quality care for their children.

To put this into further context, in New Hampshire, the cost of care for an infant averages $14,425 per year in a center-based setting, which would consume over 37 percent of a single parent’s income and 11 percent of a two-parent household that earns $120,000 annually. These rates are unaffordable for most New Hampshire families. Even if a family can afford child care, the demand on providers currently exceeds their capacity to serve families.

Lastly, despite the vital role child care professionals play in our state, wages remain low, and the industry struggles with workforce recruitment and retention.

Compounding the child care crisis is the state’s sub-1 percent housing vacancy rate. New Hampshire has a critically limited housing stock to support its economy. At 1 percent vacancy, families cannot find housing that is the right size for them, nor can they plan to grow in the same community.

Unfortunately, wages have only increased 20 percent in the past two decades, while housing prices have increased 1,300 percent. Not to mention rising costs on everyday items.

This math means that both parents likely need to work to afford housing and everyday goods, which leads us right back to the child care crisis. See it now?

According to New Hampshire housing experts, the largest factor driving the housing shortage is local land-use regulations — zoning policies that make building homes exceedingly difficult across the state. That’s why the Housing Champions Program introduced in SB 145 is so critical. We need to incentivize New Hampshire communities to support a growing housing inventory, attract and retain more workers, and fortify the state’s economic advantage.

This program provides much needed assistance to communities which choose to take positive steps on housing in the form of grants to support sewer and water infrastructure and municipal planning — all of which has the benefit of keeping local property taxes low as new housing units are added to the taxable inventory.

It is imperative that lawmakers take immediate action to increase access to safe and affordable housing and child care in New Hampshire. Doing so will benefit the entire state, as it will allow New Hampshire to retain its competitive edge while ensuring that community members are able to live, work and thrive in our communities. When we invest in systems that strengthen families, businesses and workers, we not only create an environment for communities to flourish, we also create an environment for our economy to thrive.

Democrats Becky Whitley and Rebecca Perkins Kwoka represent, respectively, Districts 15 and 21 in the NH Senate.

Categories: Opinion