Portsmouth's new affordable downtown housing celebrated: 'No small task'

PORTSMOUTH — A crowd of more than 100 people celebrated the dedication of the Ruth Lewin Griffin Place workforce housing development during a ceremony and ribbon cutting Wednesday.

The Portsmouth Housing Authority named its new 64-unit,below-market rent downtown housing development after Griffin, a Portsmouth resident, former Executive Councilmember and longtime state lawmaker.

Craig Welch, the Portsmouth Housing Authority’s executive director, lauded Griffin for her “decades of service for the state of New Hampshire, and the city of Portsmouth and the Portsmouth Housing Authority.”

Welch noted Griffin served on the PHA’s Board of Commissioners from 1978 to 2020,including “17 of those years as the chair of our board.”

“There’s so many things that make Mrs. Griffin a part of Portsmouth history,” Welch said during Wednesday’s ceremony at the PHA’s new Court Street development, which he described as “permanently affordable housing.”

“We could not be more delighted to dedicate this project to somebody who is a historical figure in her own right,” Welch said. “Thank you for your service, Mrs. Griffin, and your friendship.”

Griffin thanked the PHA “for the honor that you have bestowed upon me.”

“I just hope I can live up to all you had to say about me Craig,” she said at the end of Wednesday’s sun-soaked ceremony, which was attended by Gov. Chris Sununu and a host of current and former city officials.

Griffin urged the residents of Ruth Lewin Griffin Place to “enjoy life because you’re in the best place I know in the world: in Portsmouth on Court Street.”

The first resident of the new 64-unit below market rate housing development moved in last week.

The four-story development — which is located next to the city’s Central Fire Station —features 48 one-bedroom apartments and 16 two-bedroom apartments.

There is also a deck that holds up to 30 residents off the fourth story of the development, which features great views of Portsmouth’s historic downtown.

“So far we’ve got 350 people who’ve applied, so we’ll have no problem filling it up,” Welch said last week during a tour of the new building.

Rents for the units are substantially lower than market rate apartments in the city, especially compared to other downtown locations.

On Wednesday, Sununu credited the work PHA did on the housing project, saying he’s seen “projects start and stop like this all over the state, so to get one to completion is really an amazing challenge.”

He added that the project could be used as a model for other communities “across the state.”

Sununu also referenced his Invest NH Housing Fund initiative, which he said is offering communities $10,000 grants per unit of housing they create.

“Whoever goes after the money first, gets it, he said.

"It’s not just about putting thousands of units, hundreds of these, back on to the market, …it’s about doing it today,” Sununu said.

The Republican governor also took advantage of his appearance in Portsmouth to mention Griffin, a GOP icon in the state, “got me started in this whole business in the first place.”

“So if you have issues, take it up with her,” Sununu joked.

Former Portsmouth Mayor Tom Ferrini, who is now chair of PHA’s Board of Commissioners, acknowledged building Ruth Griffin Place "was no small task.”

The board commissioned the feasibility study for the project in October 2014 and spent seven and a half years moving the project forward, “including 16 months of construction,” he said.

He credited Welch for his work on the project, calling him “a person of significant depth and talent.”

Ferrini also suggested this won’t be the last project the PHA works on.

“We don’t give up easily, and we’ll do this again,” he said.

Mayor Deaglan McEachern told the crowd gathered outside around the new development that he was “just delighted to be able to publicly thank everybody that has been a part of this.”

“This project … below market rate housing in our downtown, really speaks to the values that Portsmouth has,” McEachern said.

He added that Portsmouth wants to include everyone “in the process of building communities.”