Dean Christon has spent a career fighting for housing solutions

  • Dean Christon —COURTESY PHOTO

NH Business Review
Published: 9/7/2023 11:12:53 AM

Dean Christon was on the front lines of fighting New Hampshire’s fall into today’s housing crisis over his 34 years with NH Housing.

Christon served as executive director and CEO of the self-supporting public corporation from 2007 through 2021 and previously was assistant executive director, deputy director of administration and chief operating officer. NH Housing has helped more than 55,000 families purchase their own homes and has been instrumental in financing the creation of more than 16,000 multifamily housing units.

“When I first joined NH Housing, a lot of housing production was single-family detached, but that kind of stopped with recession of late ’80s and never really came back,” he said. “Housing production from early 1990s on has never really met overall need.”

The Granite State’s long slide into its current housing crisis has employers struggling to find workers. It also restricts the ability for young workers to remain in the state and for young families to move up the housing “ladder of life,” Christon points out.

Christon will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Business & Industry Association’s 110th Annual Dinner and Awards Celebration, presented by Eversource, Oct. 25 at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Manchester.

State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro and attorney Sherilyn Burnett Young of Rath, Young and Pignatelli will also receive Lifetime Achievement Awards, sponsored by Whelen Engineering Company. Friends of Aine will receive the New Hampshire Advantage Award, sponsored by Bank of America. To see past winners, visit https://bit.ly/BIAhonorees.

Christon continues his advocacy and community support through his service as chair of the Advisory Board of the Saint Anselm College Center for Ethics in Society, and as a trustee for both NeighborWorks Southern NH and Catholic Charities New Hampshire.

Dealing with the housing shortage begins with defining it and NH Housing’s Residential Rental Cost Survey, conducted annually since 1980, is one of the most comprehensive analyses of any state in the nation. It detailed shrinking vacancy rates and spiking rents as the problem worsened.

“It’s showed vacancy rates pretty low for the past 25 to 30 years and it has gotten a lot worse,” Christon said.

The 2023 report showed a vacancy rate of 0.8% for all rentals when 5% is considered a balanced market. It also showed a statewide monthly median gross rent, including utilities, of $1,764 for two-bedroom units, up 11.4% over 2022. To afford this, a renter would have to earn over $70,600 a year, 137% of the statewide median renter income.

Solving the housing crisis is not a short-term challenge. The N.H. Statewide Housing Needs Assessment reports the state will require nearly 90,000 more units by 2040 to achieve a balanced market.

Making those units a reality will require continuous outreach to business leaders, nonprofit organizations and elected and appointed leaders at state and local levels. Christon stressed the need to promote the connection between the state’s continued economic growth and evolution of communities to allow people to live and work here.

“They rely on that starting point, that first affordable apartment,” he said, adding New Hampshire has always needed more multifamily housing. “It’s particularly important for people just starting out, but also for seniors and those on fixed incomes.”

Christon said a tighter, more expensive rental market is driven in part by many renters being unable to buy a home. New Hampshire set a record single-family home median sales price of $495,000 in June.

The Granite State’s economy hasn’t responded to the need for more housing, but Christon points to complex hurdles. Increasing labor and material costs make building affordable housing even more challenging, especially when many municipalities limit densities for multi- and single-family housing.

“To see housing production, particularly lower-cost units, you must work harder to find how to offset increased cost. Zoning was and remains a big problem,” he said. “Housing is a critical part of our economic infrastructure that isn’t owned by the public. It’s regulated, but at very local levels and in a very disparate kind of why and that contributes to the challenge.”

Christon said the technical side of local zoning is important, but people who serve on land-use boards often base decisions on what they hear from parts of their communities despite the need “to be flexible and informed.” He asks if people think about broader issues or simply say, “I don’t want any more traffic on my road.” Christon counters that decisions must weigh economic opportunity and the ability for people to live in local communities and advance in their lives.

He believes an “all of the above” mix of rental and ownership options is best. As most housing is built by the private sector, Christon said it’s important to not use regulatory policy or other government mechanisms to interfere with the ability to create a diversity of housing.

“To some degree, the public sector is going to need to provide financing and in some cases with direct subsidy, but a lot of times it’s about getting out of the way and letting the market do what needs to be done. It’s a dynamic of supply and demand. The way you address that is encouraging and enabling the market to create more supply.”

To purchase tickets for BIA’s Annual Dinner and to see a list of event sponsors, visit https://bit.ly/BIAAnnualDinner2023. To learn about sponsorship opportunities, email Lora McMahon.

Rick Fabrizio is director of communications and public policy for the BIA.

These articles are being shared by partners in The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.


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