Affordable housing muscles in as a key topic in NH’s new legislative session
Flurry of bills seeks to address barriers, provide incentives to developers
Even before the New Hampshire House of Representatives met for the first time Wednesday, one thing was clear: Lawmakers both parties want to do something about the state’s affordable housing shortage.
One bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Alexander, R-Goffstown, with some Democratic support, would offer incentives to developers that build workforce housing and help clear the way though municipal barriers that often thwart its development.
Another bill, House Bill 154, sponsored by Rep. Casey Conley, D-Dover, would empower municipalities to expand redevelopment tax breaks now used to encourage downtown development in order to create jobs, to the town outskirts to encourage affordable housing as well. The proposal has gotten Republican support in the past.
There are other bills from Rep. Josh Yokela, R-Fremont (HB132), which would eliminate zoning requirements that require more than a half-acre of land unless it’s for a septic system, and a bill from Rep. Ivy Vann, D-Peterborough (HB189), which would allow up to three accessary dwelling units in a building as opposed to one in a single-family home., There are also several bills making it easier to site tiny homes.
Alexander’s bill was not out by deadline, but he shared the final language with NH Business Review.
It is a combination of two bills left on the cutting room floor in last year’s scramble to consolidate legislation at the end of the session into omnibus bills.
For Alexander, 26, housing is both a business and a generational issue.
“There are businesses in the state that need to attract young talent. This is the age spectrum where we need housing to be more affordable, so we can increase the supply and make the state more marketable to us.”
The new bill would extend and enhance two municipal tax breaks.
It would allow Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) districts to be used for nonprofit workforce housing development, allowing developers to avoid paying property taxes due to improvements on the property.
It would also allow for double the duration of the tax breaks in Community Revitalization Districts – usually reserved for downtown commercial development – if, for instance, a developer adds affordable housing on the second floor of a building. And it would allow a municipality to define how large a downtown is to be part of that TIF.
Under the bill, municipalities that adopt this and other workforce housing-friendly policies could qualify for “housing champion certification,” which would give them access to various state resources, including discretionary state infrastructure funds as well free training.
The bill also would strengthen the existing workforce housing law. For instance, if a municipality allows increased density or reduces lot size for construction of elderly housing it must do so for workforce housing too. It would require that planning and zoning boards provide specific written reasons when rejecting workforce housing, and not doing so would mean automatic approval. And it would shorten timelines to approve such housing and for courts to rule on challenges.
Conley’s bill, also similar to one lost in last year‘s legislative Covid chaos – would ex[and community revitalization tax incentives, expanding it to create a “housing opportunity zone” that doesn’t necessarily have to be downtown.
Conley also has proposed a trio of bills aimed at helping tenants. One, not in bill form yet, would postpone evictions am extra month (should the moratorium on evictions lapse) for those demonstrating that they are seeking housing assistance.
The other would require landlords to provide a 60-day notice for rent increases that exceed 5 percent and a 90-day notice for rent hikes over 8%.
Conley proposed a similar bill last year, drawing opposition from landlords who called it rent control. Conley vehemently denied that, saying it is a chance to give tenants more time to come up with the money or “to make other arrangements in this market with a very low vacancy rate,” he said.
His final bill would remove any municipal requirement for an inspection if tenants are applying for emergency housing assistance, “since a lot of landlords would balk at that,” Conley said.