Barbara Hutchinson is a child therapist who finds great satisfaction in making a difference in the lives of young people. She works at the Monadnok Family Services community mental health center in Peterborough, where she has been working for a few years. Hutchinson loves her job and is grateful to be able to play while helping others. Sometimes the children bring new toys to play with, and on one occasion, she even had a nerf battle with a child.
Hutchinson grew up in the area and still has her family nearby. She wants to continue living in the area if possible. However, for several months, she has been staying in Antrim, sharing a room with her 12-year-old son and two dogs, as she hasn’t been able to find a suitable place to live. She has researched residential listings and rentals, visited Maine real estate, and even considered tiny homes and yurts. But despite her efforts, she hasn’t found anything, and everything is out of her price range.
Hutchinson works full-time and earns about $40,000 a year, and to afford rental property that is big enough for her family would cost her between $1,800 to $1,900 a month. According to the 2022 report from New Hampshire Housing, she would need an annual income of approximately $74,000 to afford a two-bedroom unit at that rate. Unfortunately, buying a home also seems out of the question, as homes in the area are selling for far more than she can afford. So, leaving the state might be the only option.
New Hampshire’s understaffed mental health system is struggling to keep up with demand, and the state needs people like Hutchinson. As of March, New Hampshire’s 10 community mental health centers had about 350 clinical positions filled, including therapists, psychiatrists, case managers, and mobile crisis responders. The staffing crisis is pervasive across the state’s healthcare system, from major hospitals to institutions that care for the elderly and people with disabilities. Some nursing homes have even closed entire blocks due to a shortage of workers.
To retain staff, some hospitals and other employers are entering the real estate market themselves. For example, Dartmouth Health, the state’s largest hospital system, began renting apartment blocks from landlords and subleasing them to employees to make it easier for new hires to find housing. Other hospitals are buying or renting homes to enable out-of-state recruits to relocate to the area.
However, with limited government funding, companies are finding it difficult to pay their workers adequate wages to meet rising rents and housing prices. Community mental health centers, in particular, struggle to budget for staff salaries and housing expenses, as they primarily use Medicaid to serve their patients, which is reimbursed at lower rates compared to other insurances. The scarcity of Medicaid funding has made it difficult for organizations like Riverbend Community Mental Health Center in Concord to raise wages, leaving workers struggling to sustain rising housing costs.
For Hutchinson, finding affordable housing is essential as she tries to make ends meet. A comfortable home with space for her family and her dogs to run around outside is all she needs. She worries that if staff members can’t be compensated a little better, more workers will leave, making it even harder to provide essential services. She wants to stay in the community and continue caring for her clients, but she needs a place to call home.