By REDC President Laurel Adams
With the median price of a new home in New Hampshire resting at half a million dollars last year, it becomes clear that home ownership is just not viable for younger, working people.
I strongly believe that the housing and workforce challenges we're seeing today in New Hampshire, particularly in Rockingham County, are linked together. Until we solve the housing crisis, we are not going to be able to realistically welcome workers to do jobs that pay living wages.
New Hampshire is a small business state, where the majority of businesses have less than 500 employees, and in many cases, less than 50 employees. The rising housing costs we’re seeing across the state are making it impossible for some to underwrite living, working, and playing in the Granite State.
Even the median rent is beyond the reach of what were previously considered living-wage jobs. For instance, you can't work on the Seacoast at a hotel or a restaurant for service wages and live there. The average cost of housing in the Seacoast is much higher than what many can afford, in particular young people, who have not reached the height of their earning potential. Not to mention that people are being shut out of the few rentals available because of the short-term vacation market.
The lack of affordable housing and the consequent longer commutes in a state with little public transit are turning people away from New Hampshire, and the state is not doing enough to stop this from happening. We are already seeing some of the impacts: restaurants are closing or not opening several days a week due to being understaffed, and there are more job openings than people to fill them. The economy is contracting as a result of this discrepancy between living costs and wages.
I would love to see our state focus on current regulations and incentivize communities to find a way to make housing more accessible for all income and age levels. This could be in the form of multi-family housing, subsidized housing, or denser housing in less populated areas. Economic diversity keeps our communities vital, but we need to have people from all over the economic spectrum to make that happen. I think it's to New Hampshire's disservice not to work harder to combat this issue.
There are bright spots within this challenge with individuals and non-profit organizations taking on workforce housing to boost employment. For example, John and Maggie Randolph of Harmony Homes in Durham have built an onsite facility for their employees, where they work a minimum number of hours and have access to housing and free daycare. Additionally, they're building tiny homes in Dover with a similar model, to ensure people can enjoy their job and have a beautiful place to live. Another example is the Workforce Housing Coalition of the Greater Seacoast, which is pushing for diverse and affordable housing options. And as for real estate and property development companies, it is hard to look at a profit and loss and balance sheet and not choose the more lucrative option.
Every community is in its own silo, and at some point, the state has to provide leadership and a roadmap of how we are going to make affordable housing work everywhere. Additional training and educational opportunities for the primarily volunteer staff on our local boards would likely help raise awareness and open minds.
There must be stronger action on equal housing and incentives to develop housing that is affordable for the majority versus what I see as housing that is affordable only for the affluent. People can be philanthropic, private investors and organizations can look beyond profit, but at the end of the day, our communities shouldn't have to rely on random generosity. Because until we solve this problem, we cannot expect to have the full spectrum of workers that we need, see continued economic growth and strength, or attract younger people and workers.
President of Regional Economic Development Center (REDC)
Laurel is an economic development professional dedicated to job creation, economic growth, and increasing regional competitiveness through alternative lending, technical assistance, and strategic planning.