Raising market-priced housing will not solve the affordable housing crisis

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Lisa D. Beaudoin is Executive Director and Tim McKernan, JD, is Policy and Advocacy Director of ABLE NH.

In his 2022 State of the State Address, Governor Chris Sununu announced a $100 million fund to address New Hampshire’s housing crisis. This money would come from funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). We commend the Governor for recognizing the housing crisis as an immediate priority. We also want to acknowledge the hard work of our Congressional delegation in writing and passing ARPA. However, one word is missing from the Governor’s InvestNH Housing Incentive Fund page – “affordable,” a glaring omission.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of this focal point. An increase in the supply of housing at market price will not solve the affordable housing crisis. It is crucial to ensure that these funds are used to build affordable housing.

Affordability is the crisis. It starts with the simple difference between how much low-income and middle-income families can afford to pay in rent and how much it costs to build, manage and maintain habitable housing for profit. This is why the NH Housing Finance Authority (NH Housing) and the funds it manages are so important to addressing the affordable housing crisis in this state.

NH Housing estimates that over 47,000 NH households have a disabled member who requires housing assistance. The state’s affordable housing deficit stands at 20,000 or more housing units. People with disabilities also face a shortage of Direct Support Professionals (DSPs), the people who enable people with disabilities to go about their day-to-day lives. DSPs are low-income workers who also cannot afford housing at market prices.

We can’t just get out of this crisis thinking that increasing the supply of market-priced housing will help the market as a whole. The affordable housing crisis is having a comparable impact on low-income renters, even in cities with high vacancy rates. We must directly address the affordable housing crisis. Market-priced housing will not trickle down to affordable housing. Market-priced housing will not benefit people with disabilities who need affordable housing now.

Market-priced homes will fetch a handsome profit for the developer, builder, owner, and property manager. Instead, NH’s ARPA relief funds should directly benefit those hardest hit by the pandemic and the affordable housing crisis, especially Granite Staters in the disability community.

The governor sent two letters to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen that made a clear case for using ARPA funds to address the affordable housing crisis. The commitment was concrete. The NH Housing Action coalition has called for unspent funds to be returned to NH Housing. This is the only efficient and transparent way, because NH Housing has strict rules.

He is responsible to the Governor, the NH Legislature and Granite Staters. Their employees are housing experts. The one-page InvestNH Housing Incentive Fund document also lacks any reference to NH Housing: our state’s best tool, laser-focused on the affordable housing crisis.

March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. People labeled as intellectual and developmental disabled are particularly vulnerable to exploitation throughout their lives. Most live with their parents until adulthood. They are in urgent need of affordable, accessible and properly supervised housing in order to lead a strong community life.

People with disabilities and their families are struggling and need help. Right now, with the governor proposing to create a new fund, the disability community needs to know that this money will be used to build affordable housing, not fund market-to-market housing. We urge Governor Sununu to be a bold leader in directing the unspent $100 million in ARPA funds to building affordable housing through the NH Housing Finance Authority’s trust processes.

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