The lack of an adequate supply of rental and for sale housing has been a long-standing issue across New Hampshire. It is estimated that the state currently needs 23,500 residential units. By 2030 that number will reach 60,000, and by 2040 the need is estimated to reach 90,000 additional units.
In 2022, as part of Governor Sununu’s $100 million InvestNH initiative, $5 million was allocated to provide Housing Opportunity Planning (HOP) grants to municipalities to analyze and update their land use regulations to help increase housing development opportunities. Community engagement is an important part of municipal work under these grants.
UNH Extension partnered with NH Housing to develop a curriculum that teaches HOP grantees, and others working to address housing in communities, about New Hampshire’s housing problem, how to engage the community, how to set priorities and to plan for an increase in housing supply at the community level. From that partnership, Housing Academy was created.
Housing Academy is a hybrid training series - in person, at various locations, and webinar presentations. Three series have been presented – Winter 2022 (2 in person, 3 webinar sessions), Spring 2023 (2 in person, 3 webinar sessions), and Summer 2023 (1 in person, 2 webinar sessions). Over 180 community volunteers, municipal staff, regional planning professionals, and housing navigators from 64 New Hampshire communities have been trained on housing issues and community engagement through Housing Academy.
Guest presenters from NH Housing, NH Listens, Plan NH, University of Kentucky joined Extension staff in creating content for the training series covering 2 critical topic areas – housing and community engagement.
Effective engagement around housing issues requires an understanding of the many facets of housing including its social, economic, and regulatory components. Housing Academy participants learned about the history of New Hampshire’s housing problem, how land use zoning impacts housing, housing terminology, how housing affects people, communities and the economy, and how to create meaningful opportunities for local community members to engage in identifying the best local solutions to housing challenges.
Securing community acceptance and support for strategies, like zoning changes, can be a difficult task. That’s why Community Engagement is a key component of Housing Academy. Bringing community members into the housing discussion helps to support vision and solutions. Participants of Housing Academy learned why engaging community is critical and how to plan a community engagement strategy. Participants were provided information on a variety of engagement methods – key informant interviews, surveys, story maps, storytelling, story circles, community forums – to name just a few. The curriculum also covered the intricacies of how to talk about housing, how to have tough conversations, and best practices for virtual and in-person meetings. The goal of engagement is to involve the community throughout the process of identifying local needs and priorities, assessing strategies that address those needs, acting, and moving towards solutions.
In addition to the Housing Academy webinars and in person sessions, grantees had access to Extension’s community engagement expertise through one-on-one coaching and event facilitation as they address the need for more housing in their communities.