Widespread support voiced for a state affordable housing fund

Senate Finance Committee hears a range of arguments for setting up permanent support for initiative

NH Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, called it a “big ask.” But it turns out that Senate Bill 15 wasn’t a hard sell at all.

His bill calls for allocating $10 million up front and, starting in October, $5 million a year from the real estate transfer tax, to go to a dedicated fund to support affordable housing projects.

The senator told the Senate Finance Committee that the funding “is for the well-being of the state that people can afford to live in New Hampshire.”

Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, D-Concord, noted that the state has a 2 percent rental vacancy rate, while the national rate is about 5 percent, adding that SB 15 “is one of the most important bills we will hear this session.”

And Elliott Berry, director of NH Legal Assistance’s Housing Project, called it among the “most important housing legislation we might ever have.”

Ken Moller, a Hancock Realtor speaking on behalf of the NH Association of Realtors, backed it as well, saying, “the lack of affordable housing is a hindrance to New Hampshire’s economic growth.”

Moller, however, wanted to make it clear that the Relators would be absolutely opposed to the measure should it morph into a tax increase, since the state already has one of the highest real estate transfer tax rates in the country.

Severe needs

The NH Housing Finance Authority already has had a revolving loan fund since 1988, one that’s designed to fill the gaps in funding various projects, said its executive director, Dean Christon. But its funding has been sporadic. 

Over the years that fund has invested $39 million to develop $400 million worth of projects, resulting in about 2,400 affordable housing units, with rents averaging about 20 percent below market rates. But the housing shortage is so acute now, the state needs 10 times as many such units, said Christon.

Some 47 states have housing trust funds, said George Hansel, a Keene city councilor and vice president of Monadnock Economic Development Corp.  Vermont and Maine have funds that both receive about $10 million a year and Maine has bonded for another $65 million.

Compared to those states, “we hardly have anything at all,” said Hansel.

The housing shortage is especially severe in Carroll County, where prices of second homes are driving up prices for primary homes and short-term rentals are driving out long-term rentals, said Evelyn Whelton, a board member of the Mt. Washington Valley Housing Coalition.  In order to afford the median rent, a person has to either make $20 an hour or work a job at the county’s median wage of $11.38 an hour for more than 60 hours a week.

“We are paddling upstream to find workers who can afford to live in the Valley,” she said.

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