Manchester’s affordable housing shortage is driving out talent and contributing to homelessness. Here’s how we can address it.

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Housing Affordability is a top issue in Manchester. Ink Link File Photo

With a rental vacancy rate of less than 1 percent and record low housing inventory for those who dream of purchasing a home, housing costs continue to climb higher and higher. It’s a classic supply-and-demand issue: There just aren’t enough homes in the city for those who want to live here. As a result, finding an affordable place — or any place at all — in Manchester is becoming increasingly out of reach for many.

At “best,” this forces desperately-needed talent to leave Manchester or not move here in the first place. At worst, it drives more and more of our neighbors into homelessness.

Simply put: We need to build more housing. But four main factors stand in the way: the cost of lumber, the lack of labor, limits on land supply, and laws and regulations. To put it more succinctly: lumber, labor, land, and laws.

City government can’t do much about the economic forces around lumber, labor, and land. But it does play an important role when it comes to laws — policies — around housing.

To address our housing deficit, Manchester needs policies that incentivize and simplify the construction of new housing. As Mayor, I will pursue the following housing production policies:

  • Predictable and Transparent Regulatory Process

    • Discretionary approval processes (such as requiring zoning variances or special use permits for all or nearly all new development) can reduce new housing by deterring developers from ever submitting proposals for needed development. While flexibility in zoning and land use policies can be helpful, Manchester should ensure a predictable and transparent regulatory process for new housing. This means establishing rules that allow for desired development to occur “as-of-right,” without having to seek a variance or special use permit. This will provide developers with a clear understanding of what they need to provide to obtain permits and what to expect from City departments.

  • Impact Fee Relief

    • Manchester should examine our impact fee structure to determine whether it can be lowered without compromising the availability of sufficient infrastructure, and explore the fiscal impact of waiving or reducing impact fees for developments that meet affordability objectives or housing goals. Further, Manchester should consider implementing an impact fee payment plan for large-scale developments to support a more diverse field of developers in the city.

  • Streamlined Permitting

    • To help streamline what can be a time-consuming and costly process, Manchester should initiate a comprehensive review of all steps in the development approval process to identify the factors that most significantly suppress new residential construction and redevelopment. We can then streamline the permitting process to stimulate development and moderate the price pressure on existing housing stock.

  • Reform Zoning to Allow More Housing Types

    • Because lower-cost housing types are not by-right under most conditions in the city, variances and/or conditional use permits that authorize deviation from existing regulations are required. The need to go through a special process to obtain the permits increases costs, lengthens timelines, and increases risks and uncertainty. To increase the availability of lower-cost housing and encourage a more diverse housing stock, changes to zoning are needed to allow the creation of these housing types in more scenarios than exist today.

Implementing policy changes to bring about more housing will take creativity, commitment, and time. To bend the curve on housing development, the right leadership is essential. Change is not easy; Manchester needs a Mayor who can bring together developers, public officials, and financiers to build more housing and strengthen our city.

For more details on my housing affordability plan, visit electwillstewart.com/housing.


356815609 674109077869789 4619325592797344745 n 2Will Stewart is a candidate for Mayor of Manchester and Alderman for Ward 2. An economic development professional, Will is the Executive Director of Stay Work Play New Hampshire. Previous roles include President & CEO of the Greater Derry Londonderry Chamber of Commerce and Vice President of Economic Development for the Greater Manchester Chamber.

About this Author

Will Stewart

Will Stewart is a candidate for mayor in Manchester, NH's Sept. 19, 2023 primary election.