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Housing market improving? Depends who needs a home

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Many working families in New Hampshire are challenged to find safe, decent housing that they can afford.

The latest news reports have the housing market rebounding. But that depends on which "market" you're talking about.

For low-income renters across New England, very little has changed. Finding safe, decent housing that's affordable to many working families is still an uphill climb: In most areas, rents have not fallen (the average two-bedroom apartment in New Hampshire still costs more than $1,000 a month) and vacancies are as hard as ever to find.

The New England Housing Network an umbrella organization for affordable housing advocates across the region has just published Affordable Housing: A New England Perspective, a paper on the importance of federal housing programs to the region's housing market. Many of the report's recommendations, particularly those regarding manufactured housing, are in line with the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund's policy agenda for housing.

Woman standing in front of manufactured home

The New England Housing Network report calls manufactured homes located in resident-owned communities "the most affordable form of homeownership for families seeking to minimize their long-term housing costs." Above, Carol Perkins at Camp Sargent Road Cooperative in Merrimack, NH.

While the report's intended audience is the members and staff of New England's congressional delegations, it makes good reading for anyone interested in federal housing policy. The synopsis on the very first page highlights three of the most important factors that the report's authors believe should shape federal housing policy:

First: It's hard to overstate the far-reaching impact of affordable housing;

Second: Government isn't pulling its weight as a partner with the private sector in shaping a housing market that serves all Americans; and

Third: Government funding priorities should be directed toward the neediest households; but when federal subsidies for homeownership are included in the mix, they aren't.

The report emphasizes that affordable housing is more than just another social services program, describing it as "a key part of our nation's infrastructure" and "a major influence on our region's economic health and on the resilience of our rural communities." It also highlights the broad impact of affordable housing (and rental housing in particular) in areas as diverse as health care and law enforcement and illustrates just how far this impact extends by noting "the lack of adequate housing is a major barrier to educational success for low-income children."

Some of the more-striking facts highlighted in the report:

  • The New England housing market is an estimated 795,000 affordable rental units short of the number needed to adequately serve the region's lowest-income households.
  • That shortfall is compounded by repeated budget cuts to federal programs that support new construction of affordable housing.
  • One of the fastest-growing income segments of the renter population consists of families living just above the poverty level (currently $23,050 for a family of four). Rental assistance reaches only about a quarter of these households, while a much-larger proportion pays more than half of its monthly income just to keep a roof over their heads. People wait years for rental assistance.
  • Public housing the safety net for our low-income elderly and disabled is threatened by a staggering $26 billion in deferred capital investment.

I urge you to join us in trying to improve access to decent, safe and affordable housing for NH's lower-income families.

By the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund's Community Housing office.