Opinion: Increasing market-rate housing won’t address the affordable housing crisis

Published: 3/20/2022 7:01:02 AM
Modified: 3/20/2022 7:00:13 AM

Lisa D. Beaudoin is executive director and Tim McKernan, JD, is director of policy & advocacy of ABLE NH.

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

It is impossible to overstate the importance of this central point. An increase in the supply of market-rate housing will not address the affordable housing crisis. It is crucial to ensure these funds are used to build affordable housing units.

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

NH Housing estimates more than 47,000 NH households have a member with a disability who needs housing assistance. The affordable housing deficit in the state stands at 20,000 housing units or more. People with disabilities also face a shortage of direct support professionals (DSPs), the people who make it possible for people with disabilities to live their day-to-day lives. DSPs are low-income workers who also cannot afford market-rate housing.

We can’t simply build our way out of this crisis thinking that increasing the supply of market-rate housing will help the market overall. The affordable housing crisis comparably impacts low-income renters even in cities with a high vacancy rate. We must directly address the affordable housing crisis. Market-rate housing will not trickle down to affordable housing. Market-rate housing will not benefit people with disabilities who need affordable housing now.

Market-rate housing will make a tidy profit for the developer, builder, landlord and property manager. NH’s ARPA relief funds should instead directly benefit those hit hardest by the pandemic and the affordable housing crisis, specifically, Granite Staters in the disability community.

The governor sent two letters to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen which clearly made the case for using ARPA funds to address the affordable housing crisis. The commitment was specific. The NH Housing Action coalition called for putting the unspent funds in the hands of NH Housing. This is the only effective, transparent path forward because NH Housing has strict rules.

It is accountable to the governor, the NH legislature and Granite Staters. Their employees are experts on housing. The InvestNH Housing Incentive Fund one-pager is also missing any reference to NH Housing: our state’s best tool, focused like a laser on the affordable housing crisis.

March is Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month. People with a label of intellectual and developmental disability are uniquely vulnerable to exploitation across their lifetimes. Most live with their parents well into adulthood. They urgently need affordable, accessible, appropriately supportive housing in order to live a robust community-based life.

People with disabilities and their families are struggling and need relief. Right now, as the governor proposes to create a new fund, the disability community must know that this money will be used to build affordable housing units and not to fund market-rate housing. We urge Governor Sununu to be a bold leader by dedicating the unspent $100 million in ARPA funds to build affordable housing through the trusted processes of NH Housing Finance Authority.

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