With so few apartments available, Concord Housing to pause voucher waitlist

Julie Palmeri

Julie Palmeri

By MICHAELA TOWFIGHI

Monitor staff

Published: 03-03-2024 10:04 AM

There are so few available apartments that Concord Housing and Redevelopment paused its housing voucher waitlist again on March 1.

Thousands of applicants sit on the current list, and with an average turnover of 34 apartments per year, moving off the list and then finding an apartment that accepts the voucher has been a near-impossible feat, according to Julie Palmeri, the executive director. 

“Applicants are frustrated with the wait time and feel they are being given false hope of being housed in our portfolio,” said Palmeri in a statement to the Monitor. “For this reason, we decided to close our waitlists and will reopen when the list reaches a manageable level, which we deemed to be a one-year wait time.”

One clear cause lies at the root of the problem: the lack of available housing in New Hampshire. 

Vacancy rates sit below 1 percent statewide, and while a number of projects could bring available units online in Concord, they won’t be ready for tenants for at least a year, said Palmeri. 

But New Hampshire state laws also complicate the matter. In the Granite State landlords can deny a tenant’s application based on the use of a voucher. It’s the only state in New England where it’s legal to discriminate based on the source of income. 

When the Housing Choice Voucher program, commonly known as Section 8, was introduced by the federal government in the 1970s, the idea was to provide agency to renters to be able to live in privately owned buildings, at a subsidized rate. In Concord, a family of four must make below $55,400 to qualify for a voucher. 

In recent years, bills to require landlords to accept housing vouchers have failed time and time again in the State House. 

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Currently, Concord Housing has 30 unused vouchers because recipients are unable to find an apartment, according to Palmeri. 

This is not the first time the agency has closed the waitlist either. In May of 2022, the waitlist was also paused. 

Although building more housing is the immediate solution to Palmeri, ensuring that vouchers can be used in these new units goes hand in hand. Project-based vouchers allow for a certain number of units to remain subsidized, even as tenants cycle through. With the help of project-based vouchers, the Concord Coalition to End Homelessness is housing clients in the new Railyards development on Langdon Ave. 

“More project-based units are a fantastic solution to the current housing crisis and something that I’d like to see more of in the coming years,” said Palmeri. 

Updating an ever-growing waitlist with little movement also comes with an administrative burden, said Palmeri. Each applicant has a file that is updated annually, with staff removing individuals who fail to respond to packets that are printed and mailed out to each household. Some applicants have remained on the waitlist for over eight years. 

“With the current waitlist, this process takes months and thousands of dollars to complete,” she said. 

Although the city has taken steps to approve new housing developments, construction costs and real estate prices are still hindering development. To accelerate new units coming online, Concord Housing is also pursuing grants to help bridge the gap between their available funding to build more housing. 

We understand that some may misconstrue the closing of our waitlists as CH+R abandoning those who are in need of a place to call home.  This could not be further from the truth.  We recognize Concord’s severe housing shortage and are pursuing options to try to create more rental opportunities,” said Palmeri. “ We recognize that access to affordable housing has wide ranging, positive impacts. When families have stable, decent, and accessible homes that they can afford, they are better able to maintain employment, perform better in school, and achieve improved health and well-being.”