Julian Castro

Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro addresses a crowd in the Keene State College Young Student Center in April.

With Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro unveiling an affordable housing plan Monday, New Hampshire advocates say they are excited to see the issue gaining traction on the campaign trail.

“That’s why this presidential primary is unprecedented,” Elissa Margolin, the director of Housing Action NH, said Wednesday. “In the past, we have not seen presidential candidates engage on the issue — maybe a mention here or there — but very little has been said, and I think the severity of the problem in the early primary states, as well as around the country, is really bringing this to a head.”

Margolin, along with Josh Meehan, the executive director of Keene Housing, said that while they are not endorsing any candidates, the rise of affordable housing as a prominent issue in the Democratic primary is heartening.

“We’re very encouraged to see affordable housing discussed by presidential candidates in a substantive way,” Meehan said. “This marks a real change in presidential politics, to see discussions of and plans for affordable housing being an important part of the discussion.”

Castro’s People First Housing Plan addresses rental affordability and its effect on homelessness, among other things, an issue that Margolin said is prevalent in the Granite State.

“It’s never been so hard to find an affordable home in New Hampshire,” Margolin, a Portsmouth resident, said. “... It’s affecting our workforce recruitment and retention. It’s driving millennials out of state, and it’s even increasing homelessness.”

In Castro’s plan, published on his campaign website, the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development proposes expanding existing housing choice vouchers and establishing a renters tax credit for middle-class families and anyone under 50 percent of the nation’s median income.

Meehan noted that in his work in the Elm City, many families do not realize that they may qualify for vouchers and other assistance if they make 80 percent of the median income in their area.

In Keene, that figure is around $65,300 in income for a family of four, according to Meehan.

Monday’s proposal from Castro joins others from the 2020 Democratic field.

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., includes a provision in his recent affordable housing proposal that would seek to amend the Fair Housing Act to prevent landlords from refusing to accept housing choice vouchers.

Margolin added that U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., has also proposed a renters tax credit for those whose rent accounts for more than a third of their income.

In addition to Castro, Booker and Harris, Margolin said she has taken note of U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar for their work on affordable housing during their time in Washington, D.C.

“We’re heartened by the prevalence of proposals coming out,” Margolin said.

In the Monadnock Region, Meehan said elderly and disabled people face severe challenges.

“We’re an older state, and we’re getting older faster than other states, so we see the highest demand for elderly and disabled housing. But that said, we still see a significant demand for family housing as well,” Meehan said.

At the crux of the problem, according to Meehan, is a supply of affordable housing insufficient to meet demand.

“As we look at our portfolio and we look at demand for units that we own or manage, our supply does not come close to meeting that demand,” Meehan said. “... Right now — and I think this is the issue that people are facing around the country ... the market as it stands is not supplying appropriate quantities of housing at price points that somebody who lives on Social Security can afford and still afford food and clothing, not to mention health care.”

Meehan said Keene Housing does not take any local or state funds. Instead, they take federal funding and administer federal programs.

Margolin’s organization is a statewide coalition, and she was in Concord Wednesday to advocate for the affordable housing fund during conference sessions for the state budget.

While both said federal funds play a large role in tackling affordable housing in New Hampshire, Margolin and Meehan were adamant that there is much more Granite State leaders can do to address the problem.

“I would hope that as New Hampshire looks at its neighboring states, and looks at their commitment to the provision of workforce housing and housing for elderly and disabled folks, that New Hampshire will — and I think is — coming to the conclusion that there is an increased role for the state government to participate in in the development of that housing,” Meehan said. “And in the absence of that, we’re falling behind our neighbors.”

Jake Lahut can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or jlahut@keenesentinel.com. You can follow him on Twitter @JakeLahut.