An annual study finds that more new homes were added to the Upper Valley last year than any year since they began this count – but it still falls short of what’s needed.
The Counting New Homes project, commissioned by Vital Communities and conducted by Upper Valley Lake Sunapee Regional Planning Commission, has released its 2022 report. The findings detail the number of new units added to the housing stock in 32 communities across four counties in the Upper Valley.
The region added a total of 643 new units in 2021, the most on record for the Counting New Homes project, which compares data going back to 2010. The new units are a welcome sight considering that the Upper Valley has been languishing in a housing crisis for decades. “Given that we are saturated with talk of a housing crisis in the Upper Valley, it is just good to see that, while there is still much work to be done, new units are coming online,” says Ellen Hender, a Program Manager at Vital Communities.
The new units are coming from a variety of communities. Lebanon is leading in new housing development, adding 431 homes last year. The next highest community is Hartford with 81 new units. Other communities such as Hanover and Sunapee are picking up their pace of development, adding more homes this year (48 and 27 respectively) than any other year the Counting New Homes Project has data on.
While the new units added this past year is an encouraging sign, demand is still outpacing the supply of new housing. Based on recent demographic trends, the Upper Valley would need to add roughly double what it did in 2021 in subsequent years to meet the estimated target goal of 10,000 new homes by 2030, according to estimates by Keys to the Valley.
Beyond the numbers, Keys to the Valley also explains that many additional lower-priced homes and affordability programs are needed to reduce housing cost burdens for residents. There are lingering questions about the affordability of new units being added. In this market of rising real estate and rental costs, many of these new units are priced out of reach for people living and working in the Upper Valley.
To respond to this long-standing affordability crisis, housing advocates across the Upper Valley are exploring how to encourage new, affordable housing developments in their communities. Modernizing zoning laws and exploring incremental development options such as retrofitting single-family homes to multi-unit buildings or adding Accessory Dwelling Units to an existing lot are strategies that many communities in the region are beginning to explore.
In addition to these efforts, state-level funding has been made available to address the housing crisis through S.226 in Vermont and InvestNH in New Hampshire. A number of Upper Valley employers have also established the $10 million Upper Valley Loan Fund to develop affordable housing in the region. These funds could be instrumental in the near term as the Counting New Homes reported that besides the 643 completed new homes, an additional 1735 units remain uncompleted.
Communities big and small have much to learn from each other about not just adding new units but shifting the focus of housing stock to meet the needs of an aging and diversifying population. “The emphasis on regional collaboration would ideally not be a negotiation of numbers but a practice in sharing information, lessons learned, celebrating accomplishments, and reflecting on each other’s challenges,” adds Uyizeye.
Counting New Homes is an annual survey of certificate of occupancy or permit data from selected towns to count all types of new housing units including single-family, multi-family, apartments, accessory dwelling units, mobile homes, tiny homes, and group homes.
The full report is available at https://vitalcommunities.org/housing/counting-new-homes/. Those interested in participating in Vital Communities housing work are encouraged to contact Ellen Hender (firstname.lastname@example.org) or John Haffner (email@example.com).