Concerning housing data is being studied in Nashua as the city struggles with a nearly nonexistent vacancy rate.
“These are pretty stark,” Sarah Marchant, community development director, said of the housing trends facing the city, some of which can easily create significant financial hardships for local families.
According to Marchant, a healthy vacancy rate is about 5%. From 2010 to 2019, Nashua’s vacancy rate has only twice reached as high as 2.5%.
“At this point in time we are well below a one percent vacancy rate, which is an unprecedented situation,” she told an aldermanic panel this week, adding there is essentially no housing available on the market.
In addition, there are very few units in Nashua that are renting for $1,000 or less, she said, adding the vast majority of units are renting at a significantly higher monthly fee.
Perhaps one of the most concerning issues, said Marchant, is that on average, about 45% of city renters are spending more than 30% of their monthly income on rent.
For owner occupied units, about 25% of those owners are spending more than 30% of their monthly income on housing, which can become a financial challenge, according to Marchant.
Since 2012, the average median price for homes in Nashua has jumped from $213,000 to $315,000 as of the end of 2019.
“And that trend is certainly continuing in 2020 despite the pandemic,” she said.
However, with so few homes on the market, houses that are available for purchase are significantly more expensive than what they used to be, explained Marchant. In addition, while the monthly median income for Nashua residents has remained steady throughout the past decade, the price of a single-family home or condominium has increased drastically, therefore creating a true affordability gap, she said.
“We have talked about a picture that shows a pretty imperative need for us to change how we think about and look at housing,” said Marchant.
Currently, the city is working with RKG Associates on a formal housing study with findings that should be available by early October.
The scope of the study, according to Marchant, will include widespread economic data, stakeholder interviews, a thorough rental housing market analysis, owner-occupied housing market analysis and gaps in housing.
This new data will be important as the city kicks off its newest master plan initiative in the coming weeks, she explained.
“I am concerned about what COVID-19 has done to our housing market,” said Alderwoman Shoshanna Kelly, questioning whether the new study will address more recent housing trends.
While it won’t necessarily be empirical data, Marchant said the stakeholder interviews will be able to highlight some of the pandemic’s impact on housing, although she said it might be slightly premature to collect the true data on that.
Carrie Schena, urban programs manager with the city, said there are currently three housing programs being utilized in Nashua to help with some of the housing concerns.
“We also have a new program that we piloted last year which was very successful,” she said of a rental rehabilitation program that provides landlords with cash for large capital projects that were deferred.
That program offers $20,000 for the first unit and $5,000 for each additional unit that needs critical repairs such as a leaking roof or non-functioning heating system, said Schena.
In addition, Nashua recently applied to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requesting $5.7 million throughout 42 months to address lead paint issues within 250 apartment units in the city.