New Hampshire is a state with one of the lowest rates of rental availability in the country, and the units that are available are few in number and too expensive for the average income earner.
The US Census Bureau places the national rental vacancy rate at 5.8 percent. In the Northeast, the rate is 4.9 percent. New Hampshire in particular comes in at 0.5 percent. Housing economists recommend a target rate of 5 percent vacancy, regarded as a sign of a healthy economy.
Over the last few years, rent prices across the state have risen as much as hundreds of dollars, and renters are struggling. Data from the 2022 Residential Rental Cost Survey shows that all New Hampshire units have increased their rent by 32 percent since 2017, and the median price of a two-bedroom housing is $1,548/month, $300 more than in 2018. In just a year’s time, the median price for a two-bedroom unit rose by 6 percent, according to data from New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority.
A combination of lower levels of inventory, growing mortgage rates, record-high consumer good prices, and a lack of new houses has made homeownership unreachable for the most average earners, which in turn has put “more pressure on the rental market,” in the words of Ben Frost, deputy executive director at New Hampshire Housing. Frost notes that in the past year some areas have seen the median price of a one-bedroom unit increase, now closer to the price of a two-bedroom.
“It is, in my opinion, a supply side issue. And we need to have more units constructed,” said realtor Chris Norwood. “We need to be smart about where they’re built.”
Just off Exit 9 on Interstate 89, the town of Warner has plans to add a three-story tall building with 24 apartment units. With plans to build it behind the Dunkin’ Donuts, senior engineer at Ranger Engineering Group Ben Osgood says that they are “trying to make it blend into the area and be more colonial to fit the area – nothing really modern and sleek. Just something that you might find, you know, in New England.”
Erin Murphy, one of 3,000 Warner residents who has lived in the town for 9 years, says the location is less than ideal and expressed displeasure at the sight of the building. “My knee-jerk reaction to it is: That’s a business district. It’s a horrible place for apartment housing,” Murphy said during an interview. “For the town, aesthetically, it’s an unpleasing large structure where there should be a business, not an apartment.”
Other critics of the plans, like planning board member James Gaffney, are concerned about the one-road entryway into the facility.
“My first reaction – visceral reaction – was, ‘Wow, that’s a big building,” Gaffney said. “My other reaction was how are you going to deconflict an additional 50 cars going out of that Dunkin’ entrance at peak times of the day.”
Osgood stands by the proposed building, saying, “It’s reasonably close to the village, but it’s very close to the intervale [Warner’s commercial area]. And, you know, all of the shopping, highway, everything you need is right there.”
Developers of the project seek financial aid from the state’s InvestNH program, whose goal is to expedite workforce housing developments and is expected to offer $50 million in housing subsidies this fall. The program will give up to $3 million to developers who meet the criteria. The initiative, however, has a hard deadline of September 2nd, meaning projects must be shovel-ready to receive funding.
“What is driving me is the Sept. 2 InvestNH deadline,” said Frost, “I’m really concerned that we as a board can’t meet that.”
In a February press conference, Gov. Sununu said New Hampshire developers should take advantage of the pandemic relief payments and the $100 million in InvestNH funds set aside. “These investments are critical to ensuring New Hampshire is the No. 1 destination in New England,” he said. “This housing is for workers and families who work in our communities, go to our schools, and contribute to our economy.”
New Hampshire currently is in a bind, a state with high demand for affordable housing and not enough supply. From what Norwood hears from renters searching for places to live, he observes that “you have to be very diligent and persistent. And then almost lucky to find the house or the apartment, which is an unfortunate place where we are as a state right now.”