“Break up into pairs and tell each other your housing story.” I was at the Housing Academy’s in-person workshop, and we were learning community engagement in practice. I chose a partner I didn’t know well and got started.
Here’s my story. I grew up in Chichester New Hampshire, was a girl scout, attended a regional public high school, went to college out of state and moved back in with my parents after graduation. Then, I reconnected with an old friend from high school and fell in love.
That year, I found a book called “Communities and Consequences” in my boyfriend’s childhood home. Suddenly, it all made sense. I realized I was one of the children that towns didn’t want. The documentary even featured clips of a town meeting I attended as a kid. Sometimes it still seems like there’s no place for us.
During the pandemic, my boyfriend and I tried to move out of our parents’ houses. We wanted to be together and reduce the risk of exposing vulnerable family members to the virus. After months of searching for an apartment, nobody would rent to us. In less than a year, we were going to be living abroad in Armenia while I taught English, and no landlord wanted a tenant for less than a full year lease, even if we were willing to pay everything up front.
In Armenia, we had a beautiful apartment in the center of the city with a balcony, and a back window perfect for watching alley cats. The landlady was disappointed when we said we didn’t have kids. This was one of the biggest culture shocks.
When the year was up, we returned to New Hampshire and moved in with my boyfriend’s dad, who was willing to have us until I finished grad school.
Then, my boyfriend got a great job in Dover, and we thought it would be perfect. We would move nearer to UNH, reduce our commutes, and have some independence. We tried to move in with a friend of his – denied, because my student income was too low. And even though my boyfriend is now earning almost as much as my parents, there’s nothing for us in the Dover area. UNH doesn’t have family housing for graduate students, and as a student without a full-time job, our annual income isn’t enough to afford a rental in the current market or stable enough for a mortgage. For now, we’re staying with his dad, trying to imagine more creative housing solutions.
At Housing Academy, my partner nodded along knowingly. She had recently moved to the seacoast from out of state and had struggled to find a rental for herself and her dog. My story is more than just mine – it connects to challenges that people and towns are facing all over New Hampshire, and it is still open-ended, just like our collective story.
Over the next few months, I’ll be researching housing stories across the state. I’ll be visiting municipalities large and small who are developing community-based solutions to our housing crisis. I will be interviewing people who are doing this work because we all need more hope, inspiration, and connection. I want my kids to grow up in New Hampshire, and then, I want them to be able to call it home, too – even if there is no balcony.
Lyla Boyajian is a Carsey MPP Fellow working on the Housing Academy with the UNH Cooperative Extension Community Economic Development Team