Originally published in the Monadnock Shopper News
We asked and you voted! Over 100 community members helped The Local Crowd (TLC) Monadnock, a community-based crowdfunding program, decide which Local Living Economy building blocks to focus on in 2019. A Local Living Economy is an economy that improves our quality of life, meets everyone’s basic needs and creates an engaged citizenry.
The top three Local Living Economy building blocks were affordable housing, farms & food, and living wage jobs & equity. For this month’s article, we’ll dive into the topic of affordable housing and highlight current efforts in our region to address this need.
First, what is affordable housing?
Affordable housing means housing that is financially viable for households making a median income or below in their location. In Cheshire County, affordable housing means housing that is financially in-reach for one person making $45,750 or less annually (huduser.gov). Affordable housing encompasses all types of housing — from emergency shelters and transitional housing to subsidized housing, rentals, and home ownership — for individuals and families.
Are we providing enough affordable housing?
There’s rising concern about the lack of access to affordable housing across the U.S. According to a Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, 11.4 million households spend more than half of their income on rent — and rents are increasing twice as fast as incomes. In rural areas, 25% of households spend over half of their income on rent.
A New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority survey conducted in 2018 found that median gross rent for two-bedroom units rose almost 19% over the past five years. In order to afford one of these units, a renter would need to earn 117% of the statewide median renter income ($47,100 a year). Our state’s vacancy rate is low — just below 2% compared to a 7% vacancy rate in the U.S. and 5% in the Northeast. A vacancy rate between 4% and 5% indicates a balance between rental supply and demand.
As an indicator of need in our region, four out of five affordable housing applications received by Keene Housing come from the elderly or people with a disability. Keene Housing’s wait list for appropriate housing for these two populations reaches eight years. As the median age of our region’s population rises, so too will the need for more affordable housing options.
Who is working to meet affordable housing needs in our region?
Keene Housing owns or manages over 550 affordable housing units, from homeless shelters to subsidized homes. In addition to providing affordable housing, Keene Housing also offers programs to residents that support employment, financial resilience, and healthy lifestyles — from developing food forests that will provide residents with free organic produce to installing solar panels on units to decrease monthly utility bills. Their Resident Self-Reliance program helps participants reach their goals by providing incentives such as education grants and rent credits.
Keene Housing Kids Collaborative is a separate nonprofit that partners with community organizations to provide free or low-cost programs and learning opportunities to Keene Housing families. You can support the Kids Collaborative at a silent auction on June 4 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at the Marriot Courtyard Downtown Keene. Find tickets and more information at bit.ly/keenekidsjune.
Southwestern Community Services (SCS) is another organization helping individuals and families find affordable housing in Cheshire and Sullivan counties. Their Housing Stabilization Service Program offers immediate help to individuals and families facing homelessness. They also provide grants to eligible low to moderate income families so they can afford to make needed home maintenance updates and repairs.
Community members, social service staff, and church representations came together in 1987 to form the Cheshire Housing Trust — a community land trust to address the rising cost of housing in Keene. They currently own 10 properties that offer single rooms and multi-bedroom apartments in Keene, Marlborough, and Hinsdale for low to moderate income households.
Individual property owners can also boost affordable housing options in our region. New Hampshire Housing offers a Housing Choice Voucher program that subsidizes rents for eligible tenants. New Hampshire Housing also offers financing to affordable housing developers and affordable mortgage loans targeted to homebuyers with incomes up to $126,700: gonewhampshirehousing.com.
This article barely scratches the surface of this topic, so we want to hear from you. What affordable housing efforts in the Monadnock region do you know about? In a future article, we’ll share your answers and highlight innovative affordable housing efforts happening outside our region. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!
More about TLC Monadnock
TLC Monadnock is a community-based crowdfunding platform that empowers individuals to support the businesses, organizations, and initiatives that grow wealthier and healthier communities in our region. Crowdfunding, or the practice of raising funds to support a project from a large number of people, is a viable alternative to recruiting businesses from outside the region to boost economic activity. Over the past two years, TLC Monadnock raised over $90,000 for fourteen crowdfunding campaigns. TLC Monadnock gives preference to campaigns that align with their respective city or town’s master plan and contribute to a local, green and fair economy.
TLC Monadnock is currently hosted by Monadnock Food Co-op and supported by the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce, Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce, New Hampshire Small Business Development Center and Monadnock Economic Development Corporation.