NH Economic Snapshot: Housing efforts must continue to meet employment, job gains

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NH broadband Map
The New Hampshire Broadband Mapping Initiative shows areas of the state that are served (dark blue), underserved (light) and unserved (white) for broadband. A $318 million broadband expansion initiative is one of the state’s tools to address the housing crisis. Image/NH Department of Business and Economic Affairs

CONCORD, NH – New Hampshire is showing significant growth in jobs, new businesses and residents, but the housing crisis must be addressed by “foundational investments,” like increasing broadband access to keep the momentum going, state economic officials said in the first in scheduled series of economic briefings Tuesday.

“There are no employers in New Hampshire that we’ve really come across that are not talking about the housing issue as something that’s kind of a break on their ability to be able to recruit and retain workforce,” said Taylor Caswell, BEA commissioner, Tuesday at the department’s NH Economic Snapshot briefing, the first in a planned series.

Caswell was joined by Rich Lavers, deputy commissioner of the Department of Employment Security, at the briefing.

The state is making inroads into the housing issue with “foundational investments,” largely the InvestNH program and a $318 million broadband initiative, Caswell said, “trying to be reactive,” to concerns of employers. The $100 million InvestNH is funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, the stimulus package passed by Congress in early 2021. The broadband initiative is funded by  ARPA and the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also passed in 2021.

Lavers agreed with Caswell on the link between the housing crisis and employer concerns, saying that “Virtually every employer [his department has contact with] is talking about the issue that housing is playing in their ability to recruit and address their workforce needs.”

New Hampshire has added nearly 21,000 jobs since 2019, an increase of 3.5%, despite a 14% loss during the pandemic, Lavers said. The state has also added nearly 8,000 private-sector employers since 2019, a 17% increase. To top it off, the state has added more than 34,000 residents since 2017.

Caswell noted that the addition of residents makes InvestNH’s program that helps municipalities navigate housing issues, as well as the initiative to increase broadband access, all the more crucial.

“Part of this, that a lot of people don’t also talk about, is a lot of rural communities talking about the ability to have more individuals in their communities as a part of a revibrancy and a renewal campaign,” Caswell said. He said a lot of rural communities have had an increase in the number of people who “are interested in living that more outdoor-based existence and still be near a vibrant economy and be near urban areas.”

New Hampshire has “risen up in the ranks over the years in that regard,” he said, which helps play into why the state is “spending so much time and effort on housing.”

It is a steep climb. Caswell noted the 0.6% statewide rental vacancy rate, which is an all-time high as rents continue a 10-year climb. They are 11% higher than they were in 2022, with $1,764 the median for a two-bedroom unit. Median means that half of the rents are higher and half are lower.

InvestNH ‘our big tool’

Caswell said the $100 million InvestNH program is “our big tool” to fix the housing crisis. The program launched in 2022, and is funded by ARPA. It provides money for developers, both for-profit and not-for-profit, and landlords, no matter how small, to increase multi-family housing. Some $60 million of the program is aimed at bridging project funding gaps, with the other $40 million targeted to help towns and cities find solutions to housing issues.

“Since [InvestNH launched] we’ve been taking that as our major initiative to advance our goal to bring more multi-family units online as quickly as possible, and at the same time focus on enabling municipalities to address housing as they see fit,” he said.

Since 2022, 2,487 new rental units, 1,430 of which are affordable housing, have been built with support from the program. Statewide housing permits also increased 18% in 2023, nearly double the annual average increase over the past decade, Caswell said. Of those permits, 41% were for multifamily housing.

He said all of the projects that were approved in November 2022 have a completion deadline of May, and the state is working with projects that need more time. “But by and large these programs are having the desired effect,” he said.

He said the work the state has done with municipalities is an important component of InvestNH.

One that’s had an impact is the Municipal Demolition Grant program, which supports towns and cities that want to tear down dilapidated or vacant buildings to create space for housing. He said that one example is a $252,000 grant to the city of Rochester to tear down an old Department of Public Works building at 45 Old Dover Road to make way for 96 affordable housing units. Final grant approval is before the Executive Council Wednesday. [Also before the council is a $414,000 InvestNH Municipal Demolition Grant to demolish the former St. Patrick’s School, 70 Main St., in Jaffrey, to make way for workforce housing under the same program.]

“It’s the kind of thing where we’re having a little bit of a residual effect from these kind of funds that are addressing and adding to the total number of affordable units attributed to the InvestNH program,” Caswell said.

Also having an impact is InvestNH’s Housing Opportunities Program, which helps local governments navigate zoning and other issues.

“How do those things actually take place in communities where you don’t have full-time staff?” he said. “This is an increasingly important program.”

He said more than 20 communities so far have taken advantage of the program, an “encouraging” sign.

“That sets the foundation for further opportunity to address this program,” with communities that are looking for ways to add housing. He said there’s also a “toolbox” with material and resources for municipalities on how to address issues surrounding housing.

domistic migration graphic 2
A steady influx of residents into the state beginning in 2017 is good for the state’s economy, but also another aspect of the housing crisis. Graphics/NH Department of Employment Security

NH Broadband Initiative

Caswell also noted the significant amount of resources the state is putting toward its broadband initiative with $318 million in federal stimulus money. 

“It doesn’t always get the same level of attention as the housing piece usually does is the significant amount of resource we’re putting toward our broadband initiative,” Caswell said.

“In its initial format, we’ll be bringing 50,000 new addresses online with high-speed internet, and I think that really starts to play into the housing and the workforce issue,” he said. He noted the number of people working remotely is up, as well as people whose day-to-day tasks like school, finances, health care, and more, require internet access.

“Increasingly we’re moving in that direction, making some foundational investments to get more of our rural communities access to high-speed internet kind of goes hand in glove with what we’ve been doing on the housing side,” he said.

The buildout schedule for the $318 million program is 2026, Caswell told Ink Link after the briefing. The “vast majority of work” will be in Carroll, Coos, Grafton, Sullivan and Cheshire counties, paid for with $122 million in ARPA money and $191 million in federal IIJA money.

“This is a substantial set of programs, all managed by our Office of Broadband Initiatives here at BEA,” Caswell said. 

Business, jobs, new residents growth

Lavers said both employers and residents moving to the state from other places “continue to see New Hampshire as an attractive destination.”

The biggest increase has been in professional, scientific and tech sector, with 23% growth from 2019 to 2023. The second biggest growth industry has been construction, which increased 13% in those years.

The state has also gained residents every year since 2017 – an average of 4,800 a year, with a surge of 8,512 in 2021 – after losing residents every year except one between 2010 and 2016.

“When you look at the growth that we’ve been experiencing and compare that to prior to the pandemic and prior to 2017, it’s quite a different picture…where New Hampshire was regularly losing residents to other states.”

Inflation has also slowed significantly in the Northeast as a whole, though costs in many areas, particularly housing, which increased 6% in 2023 on top of a 5.2% increase in 2022.

“Which makes all that more relevant and important, the work that’s being done [to increase the housing supply,]” he said.


About this Author

Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken is a contract reporter and content producer for consumer financial agencies. She has worked for northern New England publications, including the New Hampshire Union Leader, for 25 years, and most recently at Mainebiz in Portland, Maine. She can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.