Don’t jeopardize communities owned by NH residents

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Posted: 02/27/2022 08:00:38

Modified: 02/27/2022 08:00:11

In his recent State of the State message, Governor Chris Sununu called the availability of housing for our working families one of our state’s greatest challenges, while also touting what he called “The New Hampshire Way” – a story of creating local solutions that are innovative and responsible.

New Hampshire has an extremely effective local method of preserving affordable housing that, over its 38-year history, has secured nearly 8,500 affordable homes without a penny of government subsidy. And ironically, given the governor’s remarks, a current government proposal could put an end to it.

The NH Community Loan Fund’s ROC-NH (Resident Owned Communities) program helps residents of New Hampshire’s manufactured home parks (sometimes called mobile homes) preserve their affordable homes and create stronger, vibrant communities by buying and managing their parks as cooperatives. Resident ownership ensures that no landlord can raise their rent beyond their means or evict them to develop something more profitable, such as single-family homes or commercial properties.

This happened in Littleton, where a mobile home park containing many long-time owners was sold to a company that planned to close the park and develop the land. A resident recalls: “They made promises of rehousing (the families), promises they never kept, and we lost our homes, after a battle that took us to court… my house returning to the bank after 13 years and many retirees give up theirs. Those were the worst five years of my family’s life.

Using loans, training and technical assistance, ROC-NH has helped establish 140 resident-owned communities containing nearly 8,500 affordable homes. This program is transformative because residents become owners and democratically manage their property. It’s an efficient and durable model that’s needed more than ever when the purchase price of a typical manufactured home in a co-op is just under $100,000 while the median home purchase in New Hampshire is nearly $400,000.

So why would lawmakers introduce a bill making it nearly impossible to form a resident-owned co-op?

If passed, SB 210 would require 51% of owners, rather than 51% of co-op members, to vote on buying a park.

This is not how democracy or capitalism works. Elected candidates win with 51% of those who voted, not those who live in a neighborhood. And cooperative-owned businesses do not give decision-making power to anyone who is not a member of the cooperative.

Fortunately, it’s clear that lawmakers are listening to the concerns voiced by many and want to get it right. The recent SB 210 public hearing produced stunning and inspiring turnout from ROC supporters, including residents, both before the hearing and during testimony against the bill.

We ask members of the Senate to reject SB 210. Instead, let’s focus on proposals designed to improve management and protect the affordability of these communities. We cannot risk losing the very affordable housing opportunities that New Hampshire working families need. The top priority should always be empowering Granite Staters to own their homes. Strengthen and support resident-owned communities.

To quote Governor Sununu, “We can and must move forward and create more housing for the workforce, but equally important, do it in a way that preserves what is there.” better in our state. Our common sense of responsibility towards our neighbours.

A shared sense of responsibility is exactly what resident-owned communities mean. Please urge your state senator to vote “no” on SB 210.

(Betsy McNamara of Concord is chair of the board of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund.)

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