Governor’s affordable housing initiatives left on NH House floor

Bills aren’t sent to the Senate amid partisan bickering
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Gov. Chris Sununu

Among the bills left to die as the legislative session draws to an unseemly close — disrupted by the coronavirus outbreak and fractured by partisan bickering — were those to pursue the affordable housing initiative announced last October by Gov. Chris Sununu.

Three bills easily were passed by the House by comfortable bipartisan majorities. A fourth House bill, won the unanimous support of the House Ways and Means Committee, None of them got the Senate for votes after representatives were unable to muster a two-thirds majority to suspend its rules to allow them to consider dozens of bills that required action to be sent to the Senate.

Likewise, a Senate housing bill, passed on a division vote and referred to the Finance Committee, never got to the House.

House Bill 1629 carried the House by a bipartisan vote of 276-60. It would have required municipalities providing dimensional or procedural incentives for the development of senior housing such as increased density, reduced lot sizes and expedited approval processes to provide the same incentives for the development of workforce housing. The bill also expanded the definition of workforce by raising the threshold of affordability from 100% to 120% of the median income of households of four in the metropolitan area or county where the property is located.

The bill directed the Office of Strategic Initiative to provide materials and instruction for members of municipal land use boards and prescribed expedited approval processes for local boards as well as expedited processes for appealing their decisions.

In particular, to discourage frivolous appeals, the bill granted courts authority to award attorneys’ fees and require parties appealing decisions of land use boards to post a bond to indemnify the prevailing party from costs and damages if the court upholds the board’s decision.

HB 1632 passed the House, 258-83, and was referred to the Ways and Means Committee, where it was endorsed unanimously. The bill added the acquisition of real property and development of workforce housing to projects qualified for tax increment financing. It also granted a deduction against the business profits tax on income derived from workforce housing projects.

The bill also reduced the rate of the real estate transfer tax from 75 cents to 50 cents per $100 of the sale price for first-time homebuyers purchasing a primary residence costing no more than $300,000.

It also would create a Housing Champion Program for municipalities adopting land use regulations and employing financial tools, like tax increment financing, to encourage development of workforce housing. Municipalities certified “champions” by the Office of Strategic Initiatives would be eligible for a share of BPT revenue as well as preferential financing from the Business Finance Authority for economic development projects.

By the time HB 1632 reached the Ways and Means Committee, the impact of Covid-19 was already shrinking state revenues. The committee stripped all state costs from the bill, leaving only the framework to restore the financial incentives when, as its chair, Rep. Susan Almy, D-Lebanon, put it, “our fiscal world is righted again.”

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 475 would have enabled municipalities to grant a credit against property taxes, equal to twice the state education property tax assessed for the property, for the development of at least five workforce housing units, either single-family homes or multi-family buildings.

Perhaps the lone bright spot of the session for housing advocates was the defeat of two Senate bills to abolish the Housing Appeals Board, established in 2019 to provide a less cumbersome and expensive alternative for appealing decisions of municipal land use boards than Superior Court.

Categories: Government, News, Real Estate & Construction

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