By DAVID CARKHUFF/THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — A new national snapshot of rental housing costs suggests that New Hampshire will see a continued creep upward in its rents this year.
In the state's surveys, rental costs have been on an upward trend, year after year, said Jane Law, communications manager at New Hampshire Housing.
In the past five years, "the trends have been upward," Law said.
"On a statewide basis, the vacancy rate has been dropping for a number of years," she said, meaning fewer units going for higher prices.
In New Hampshire, officials are working on this year's rental trends report, due out in June, but results in the past five years suggest a continued climb in rents and a shortage of vacancies.
And last month, the U.S. Census Bureau issued an update on rental housing, and the trends were for higher rents and less availability.
Nationally, a $1,507 median asking rent in the third quarter of 2016 was $161 more than the median asking rent of $1,346 in the third quarter of 2015, according to the new report on rental housing trends, "Survey of Market Absorption of New Multifamily Units – Annual 2016 Absorptions."
The Census Bureau designed the survey to provide data concerning the rate at which privately financed, nonsubsidized, unfurnished units in buildings with five or more units are rented or sold, or "absorbed."
Issued last month, the Census Bureau survey does not target information by state, but 59 percent of seasonally adjusted newly completed, unfurnished rental apartments built in the third quarter of 2016 were rented within the first three months after completion. "The 59 percent seasonally adjusted rate in the third quarter of 2016 was six percentage points higher than the 53 percent for the second quarter 2016, but approximately the same as the third quarter 2015, as seasonally adjusted," the report noted.
"The three-month absorption rate by asking rent ranged from 46 percent (units renting for more than $2,450) to 73 percent (units renting for less than $850). The median asking rent for units absorbed within three months was $1,453," the report noted.
The Northeast and Midwest accounted for 14 percent of the new construction during the third quarter of 2016, the Census Bureau reported.
Law at New Hampshire Housing said in June, the agency will issue this year's rental numbers based on April and May data, collected by the survey center at University of New Hampshire.
"Last year, our rents were up, and vacancies were very low," she said.
Demand, particularly in southern New Hampshire, where rents often exceed $1,200 a month, "the market is opening up. There is more rental housing construction going on, especially in the lower tiers of the state," Law said.
"But those units typically go on the market on the high end for rents because it's covering the cost of construction," she said.
In Belknap County, rents hovered just under $1,000 for a two-bedroom apartment, including utilities, in the 2016 report. Vacancy rates were below 5 percent, compared with 1.5 percent statewide.
Southern New Hampshire counties struggled with vacancy rates below 2 percent. A 2 percent vacancy rate is considered a turnover rate, Law said.
In Merrimack County, the median two-bedroom rent was $1,113; in Hillsborough County, it was $1,219; and in Rockingham County, it was $1,270. In Belknap County the median two-bedroom rent was $997.
"It's still up there," Law said. "The cheapest place to rent is in Coos County, and that's $790 for a median two-bedroom rent."
In Belknap County, a three-person household needed a median income of $39,900 to afford the rent. In Rockingham County, the needed median income was $55,800.
To be affordable, housing should not cost more than 30 percent of income, New Hampshire Housing estimated.
"The for-sale housing, that market has become very tight. Purchase prices are up. The housing economy is still very strong and very tight in the state," Law said.
The state has seen almost a 15 percent increase in rents including utilities for two-bedroom apartments since 2011.
For more on the Census Bureau survey, visit https://www.census.gov/housing/soma/.
For more on the New Hampshire Housing survey, visit http://www.nhhfa.org/studies-publications-presentations#rentsurvey.
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