Economist touts affordable housing
By Dale Vincent
Union Leader Staff
November 2, 2004
MANCHESTER - Planning boards often give great weight to what they assume will be an influx of children - and a strain on school resources - when they are presented with plans for a housing development.
Conventional wisdom says that for every new house built, two or more school children are added to the population of a community.
Economist Russ Thibeault, president of Applied Economic Research, said that's far from today's reality.
Thibeault yesterday addressed 325 people attending the sixth annual Statewide Housing Conference to Examine Affordable Housing Issues at the Radisson Hotel-Center of New Hampshire.
The New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority hosts the conference, which is designed to provide professionals in New Hampshire's housing industry with a chance to learn about the issues and opportunities regarding the affordable housing market.
Thibeault said New Hampshire school populations in most communities are stable or declining, despite new housing. In most districts, he said, the number of first-graders peaked in 1992-93. Now, he said, there are 30 percent fewer children entering school in many districts.
Currently, new housing units generate .4 children per unit, with new single-family homes generating .7 children per unit.
In New Hampshire, 26 percent of housing units are occupied by married couples with children under age 18, one-third by households headed by someone 55 or older, and one-fourth by one person.
"There’s a disconnect between impression and reality," he said. "It’s the myth of the Brady Bunch."
Former long-time state planning director Jeffrey H. Taylor presented highlights of a recently completed handbook, "Housing Solutions for New Hampshire," which focuses on the tools and techniques that can be employed at the local level to address the shortage of affordable and work-force housing.
Compiled at the request of the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, the handbook is available online at the NHHFA Web site, www.nhhfa.org and will soon be available on CD.
The handbook includes projects in New Hampshire and Vermont, such as new single-family and multi-unit construction, rehabilitation of existing housing, adaptive re-use of mill and school buildings, historic restoration and mixed-use cluster development.
Taylor said the handbook provides places "you can take public officials to that they can walk through."
Taylor said the handbook borrows, with permission from the Maine Housing Authority, photos of a nurse, a teacher and a firefighter, and words that are a stark reminder of the housing need: "They can save your life, teach your children and be your hero, but they can’t afford to be your neighbor."
Taylor said affordable housing can help preserve open space, which is important because there will never be enough money for the state's LCHIP program.
"Increasing density is a key issue," he said, because the more units on the site, the lower the cost. Communities that permit increased density for affordable and work-force housing on a site can preserve open space as a byproduct, he said.
U.S. Housing and Urban Development Assistant Secretary Michael Liu presented the NHHFA with $54,000 for helping 49 families become homeowners by using HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher Homeownership Program, in which qualified families receive a monthly mortgage subsidy instead of a rent subsidy.
The Manchester Housing Redevelopment Authority received a $9,000 check for helping four families become homeowners, using the HUD program.