Betsy McNamara

Don’t jeopardize critical affordable housing

By Betsy McNamara

The New Hampshire Community Loan Fund's board chair asks: Why would lawmakers introduce a bill to make forming a resident-owned cooperative nearly impossible?

In his recent State of the State message, Gov. Chris Sununu called the availability of housing for our working families one of our state’s biggest challenges, while he also extolled what he called “the New Hampshire way”-- a history of creating homegrown solutions that are innovative and responsible.

New Hampshire has a homegrown, wildly effective method of preserving affordable housing that has secured almost 8,500 affordable homes in its 38-year history without a penny of government subsidy. And ironically, given the governor’s remarks, a current government proposal could end it.

The N.H. Community Loan Fund's ROC-NH™ (resident-owned communities) program helps residents of manufactured-home (sometimes called mobile-home) parks in New Hampshire preserve their affordable homes and create stronger, vibrant communities by buying and managing their parks as cooperatives. Resident ownership ensures no landlord can raise their rent beyond their means or evict them to develop something more profitable, such as single-family homes or commercial properties.

Act now to stop Senate Bill 210

That’s what happened in Littleton, where a mobile home park containing many longtime homeowners was sold to a corporation that planned to close the park and develop the land. One resident remembers, “They made promises of relocating [the families], which they never kept, and we lost our homes, after a battle that took us to the court system … my home going back to the bank after 13 years and many retired people abandoning theirs. It was the worst five years of my family's lives.”

Using loans, training, and technical assistance, ROC-NH has helped establish 140 resident-owned communities containing nearly 8,500 affordable homes. This program is transformative because residents become owners and democratically manage their property. It is an effective, sustainable model that is needed now more than ever, when the purchase price of a typical manufactured home in a cooperative is just under $100,000 while the median purchase of a home in the Granite State is nearly $400,000.

So why would lawmakers introduce a bill to make forming a resident-owned co-op nearly impossible?

If passed, Senate Bill 210 would require 51 percent of homeowners, rather than 51 percent of cooperative members, to vote on the purchase of a park.

This is not how democracy or capitalism work. Elections are won by receiving 51 percent or more of the eligible votes cast, not 51 percent of everyone who lives in a district. And cooperatively owned businesses do not give decision-making power to anyone who isn’t a cooperative member.

Thankfully, it is clear lawmakers are listening to concerns voiced by many and want to get this right. SB 210’s recent public hearing produced an amazing and inspiring turnout by ROC supporters -- including residents -- both before the hearing and in testimony against the bill.

We ask Senate members to reject SB 210. Instead, let's shift focus to proposals designed to improve management and protect the affordability of these communities. We can’t risk losing the very-affordable housing opportunities New Hampshire's working families need. The top priority should always be on empowering Granite Staters to own their homes. Let’s strengthen and support resident-owned communities.

To quote Gov. Sununu, “We can and we must move forward and create more workforce housing but just as important, do so in a way that preserves what is best about our state. Our shared sense of responsibility to our neighbors.”

A shared sense of responsibility is exactly what resident-owned communities are all about. Please urge your state Senator to vote no on SB210.

Betsy McNamara of Concord is the Community Loan Fund's board chair.

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