Housing a Top Issue for NH Voters – and Candidates, Too

Housing is the top issue for residents of New Hampshire, a new survey from the University of New Hampshire found Thursday. And candidates for office have taken notice.  

A June round of the Granite State Poll found that 36 percent of responders identified housing as the “most important problem facing New Hampshire” – and it wasn’t close. The housing crisis was followed by education, at 7 percent; immigration, at 6 percent; and jobs and the economy, at 6 percent. 

Five percent of respondents were concerned about the cost of living, while taxes, right-leaning politicians, left-leaning politicians, and addiction each commanded 4 percent of those surveyed. 

The responses drive home what indicators have long shown: New Hampshire does not have enough housing stock to meet demand, causing home prices to rocket upward and the rental market to tighten. Businesses have struggled to lure employees to the state as a result. 

This May, the median home price hit $525,000, according to the New Hampshire Association of Realtors, a nearly 13 percent increase since May 2023, and a big leap from the $300,000 median price in 2019. And the rental vacancy rate has stayed near 0.5 percent, far below the 5 percent target that housing economists say is key to a stable housing market. 

And according to some analyses, the state is not building housing fast enough. A 2023 report from New Hampshire Housing, a quasi-state agency, found that the state will need to build 90,000 units by 2040 to meet the demands of the state’s demographic changes. Falling short of that could impede New Hampshire’s growth, the report found.  

The issue has spilled into the race for governor. Candidates in both parties last month noted the problem at a forum organized by the National Federation of Independent Business. 

Asked about how she would address the state’s workforce shortage as governor, Democratic Executive Councilor Cinde Warmington said the most important hurdle for businesses is housing. 

She criticized Gov. Chris Sununu for initially proposing InvestNH – a $100 million program to use federal COVID money to encourage development around the state – without requiring that the units be made affordable. After pushback from Warmington and others on the council, the governor’s Department of Business and Economic Affairs agreed to require that the new developments included a set percentage of workforce housing units.  

Warmington also argued that zoning codes across the state were the biggest barrier to an expansion of housing. She said developers have complained that zoning codes can significantly reduce the planned size of a housing project, or can add large costs or delays.  

“We need to really incentivize our community to address the zoning issues and that’s going to require changing the narrative around housing,” Warmington said. “It’s not a ‘not in my backyard’ situation; the people you’re keeping out of your backyard are your kids and your grandkids and your teachers and your firefighters and police officers who work in their communities.”  

Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte said as governor she would make moves to reduce wait times for state permits from the Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Services, which she said can also hamper developers.  

“What I think we need to do is actually what we do in manufacturing, called the ‘lean process,’ where we look from beginning to end, how long does it actually take to get something done?” Ayotte said.  

Former Senate President Chuck Morse, who is also running for the Republican nomination, agreed. 

Morse also said that state grant programs to help cities and towns with water remediation would help create more housing and lead to more density. 

Former Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, who is competing with Warmington in the Democratic primary, did not attend Thursday’s debate. But when she filed for governor June 14, she told reporters she would be in favor of pushing to convert underutilized buildings into housing across the state – from abandoned office space to historic structures. 

Those who are entrenched in the fight for expanding housing say that this campaign season is a key time for lawmakers in both parties to propose housing solutions to voters – and follow through on them. 

Yet even if many Granite Staters agree that the lack of housing is an issue, there can often be resistance about broad changes that would increase housing availability in local communities – the essence of the “not in my backyard” mentality, said Rep. Josh Yokela, a Fremont Republican who has sponsored bills to expand housing. Political candidates are going to need to find a way to bring those voters aboard, he said.  

A longer version of this story was first published in The New Hampshire Bulletin. It is republished here under a Creative Commons license.