Monadnock Housing Roundtable
Inflated housing prices are commonly seen as an urban problem, but a lack of housing opportunity also challenges many rural areas, including the Monadnock Region in southwest New Hampshire. There is growing recognition among community members in the region that a shortage of housing options is weighing down our economy, harming businesses’ ability to recruit employees, and a placing financial hardship on many working and middle-class families. This sentiment is backed up by the data. Over the past couple of years, rental vacancies have hovered in the range of 1-2%, well below the 5% that’s recognized as an indicator of a balanced market. About half of all renters are “cost-burdened,” paying more than 30% of their income on housing costs. The inventory of homes for sale continues to fall and sale prices continue to climb, often beyond the means of first-time homebuyers.
Overcoming these challenges will require a proactive approach and coordination among different housing stakeholders, including municipalities, employers, developers, homebuilders, real estate professionals, the non-profit sector, and others. Recognizing a need for collaboration and multi-sector dialogue, SWRPC organized the Monadnock Housing Roundtable, a group that meets on a recurring basis to discuss regional housing issues and potential strategies for responding to the housing crisis. The group grew out of an event held in late 2019 by the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce to highlight housing as an important regional issue. Since then, the group has been meeting virtually throughout the pandemic, which underscores the fact that the need to address the region’s housing challenges has become only more apparent during the public health emergency and economic downturn.
Thus far, the primary role of the Roundtable has been to open a space for housing stakeholders to discuss challenges and to share resources on a regional scale. This is important for a few reasons. First, while much of land use policy is decided at the local level, housing issues and markets span municipal boundaries. Our region (and our state’s) housing issues will be difficult to overcome if we try to address them with each local community working in isolation from one another. Second, a regional forum like the Roundtable provides a support network for local advocates. It creates a venue for sharing information, tools, and experiences. Third, it provides a connection between housing policy and advocacy work occurring at the state level and local efforts.
Moving forward, the Roundtable’s work will involve prioritizing particular goals and objectives to focus on. To date, Roundtable members have expressed interest in a number of areas, including the role state legislation might be able to play in shifting policy and incentives at the local level. Activities could also include outreach to additional partners, such as major employers in the area, in order to build a wider coalition interested in effecting change. The group may also consider how to sustain their efforts over the long term—is there an organizational model that’s best suited for sustaining outreach and advocacy work in the years to come? We won’t solve our collective housing challenges overnight, but through groups like the Monadnock Housing Roundtable, there’s hope that collaboration and collective creativity will move use towards a brighter housing future.