Lindsay Thayer, a self-described lifelong resident of Laconia, said most two-bedroom rentals she encountered in the city cost about $800 a month with utilities included. Thayer lives with her mother in a two-bedroom unit which rents for $600 without utilities. She praised her landlord, Sheri Minor, but conceded that Minor competes with subsidized housing. This wrinkle in the local rental housing economy puts pressure on certain landlords with lower-cost units. (David Carkhuff/Laconia Daily Sun)
River's Edge fills up; private landlords continue to worry about competition from affordable housing
By DAVID CARKHUFF, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — River's Edge, a 32-unit affordable housing complex on Union Avenue on the bank of the Winnipesaukee River, is completely full.
Laconia Area Community Land Trust's largest property in the city opened last August amid a clamor for housing, while some landlords cringed at the prospect of competing with yet another subsidized rental complex in the region.
On Thursday, Carmen Lorentz, who recently took the helm at the trust, announced the "no vacancy" status of River's Edge. In an interview, she also confirmed that rent prices continue to surge across the region, even affecting the heavily regulated affordable housing sector.
"I don't think we've seen rents going down within the parameters that we have to deal with," said Lorentz, the new executive director at the Laconia Area Community Land Trust.
"Our vacancy rate has gone down. I think that has to do probably a little bit with the market, but we've invested in our portfolio in the past few years," which created more demand for the trust's units, driving up tenancy, she said.
"We have not experienced downward pressure on our rents," Lorentz reported. Going back to 2008, a review of gross potential rent across the trust's entire portfolio revealed a trend of rents going upward, even after adjusting for inflation, she reported. "Our vacancy rate has also decreased over that same time period. We have invested heavily in refurbishing our older units over the last three years, which I think has made them more marketable. Most of those older units are in the City of Laconia (135 of our 341 apartments are in Laconia)," Lorentz reported.
Yet some Laconia landlords have complained that affordable housing, when built in communities, places these landlords at a competitive disadvantage.
"We're struggling," said Sheri Minor, president of the Lakes Region Rental Association.
"We compete with subsidized housing," Minor said, echoing a concern raised in February with the Laconia City Council.
"What happens is we have a lot of low-income housing and subsidized housing that's through the government and the (Laconia Area Community Land Trust)," Minor said.
Tenants will gravitate to those forms of housing, leaving private landlords competing with subsidized housing rates and confronting the risks of serving a financially challenged demographic.
"I have to charge lower so they can afford to live in my apartments," Minor said.
Minor rents out about 80 traditional apartment units and an assortment of mobile home rentals. In Belmont, she is asking $675 for a two-bedroom mobile home. "In the past it's been $600, which is a steal," she said. "I can't afford to charge $600."
Lorentz said she is aware of the landlords' concerns, but noted that the trust typically builds where it's invited.
"We do have a lot of people in the community who require affordable housing, and I think that we are providing a product that is needed and in demand in the market," she said.
With 341 apartments in the region, the trust plans to launch construction on Gilford Village Knolls III, a phase of senior housing in Gilford, this spring. This past winter, the trust announced the completion of a 65-unit preservation project purchasing 40 units in Ashland and 25 units in Meredith, saving the imminently expiring 25 units as well as preserving the other 40 units as permanently affordable.
"Communities that are wise are thinking about housing affordability for working people," Lorentz said.
When it comes to the concern about affordable housing edging out private landlords, Lorentz said, "It's certainly a good question to be asking right now, and it's a positive thing that the city is going to be working on its master plan."
Minor said she rents out a two-bedroom apartment for $600 a month, utilities not included, because the economy at that segment of the rental housing market is so lopsided.
"They sit empty. I'd rather get somebody in there for a little bit lower," she said.
Lindsay Thayer, a self-described lifelong resident of Laconia, is one of Minor's tenants. Thayer said she lives with her mother in a two-bedroom unit which rents for $600 without utilities.
Most two-bedroom rentals she encountered during her time in Laconia cost about $800 a month with utilities included, she estimated.
Thayer agreed that subsidized housing can pull away tenants and create pressure for landlords.
"It's hard to find landlords who are respectful and are on top of taking care of stuff," Thayer said, categorizing Minor as one of the landlords who is conscientious and respectful.
Thayer said the housing crunch boils down to responsibility by both landlords and tenants.
"A lot of people don't have much respect," she said.
Some landlords fail to maintain their properties.
"A lot of times you'll find places that are more or less run down," Thayer said.
Landlords who don't conduct background checks can "end up having their apartments trashed, which of course, in that case, they up the rent because of the fact they're not doing the background checks, basically finding out that people are disrespectful or not paying rent, they're squatters."
So those destructive tenants create a quandary for renters on a limited income.
"It's making it hard on honest people who are trying to find good, decent places," Thayer said.
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