Key housing issues up for votes in New Hampshire Senate Thursday

Housing appeals board, affordable trust fund, lead paint remediation among items in budget trailer bill

The New Hampshire Senate will be voting Thursday on three housing issues that ran into resistance in the House: funding for lead paint remediation, financing the affordable housing trust fund and establishing a housing appeals board.

The Senate Finance Committee put all of those items into House Bill 2, the budget trailer bill, which makes necessary changes in the law for the budget of work but is also a vehicle to get though bills that have not been able pass on their own.

The Senate appropriated $3 million for a fund offering direct loans to landlords for lead remediation, replacing the current partial loan guarantee program that was widely denounced by landlords who participated in a major lead paint overhaul two years ago.

That overhaul, which was passed at the beginning of 2018, calls for testing the blood levels of almost every child, unless families choose to opt out. It would also lower the standards that could trigger an investigation, and possibly an order for landlords to undertake an expensive mitigation. Rules for the program have yet to be finalized.

The carrot for landlords was a $6 million grant program, but House Finance Committee had altered it in November 2017 into a loan guarantee program that bankers flatly said they wouldn’t participate in.

“We lost all trust when that happened,” said Rick Blais, former president of the New Hampshire Property Owners Association, who still works on affordable housing issues as a board member of the Manchester nonprofit The Way Home.   Instead of trying to remediate, landlords are now upgrading their properties to attract higher-income tenants, Blais said.

Gov. Chris Sununu did put in $2.5 million for a direct loan fund in his budget. The House left it out of theirs, but the Senate put it back in and increased the amount to $3 million.

“Any money is helpful, but this is going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. This is not even scratching the surface,” Blais said.

Affordable Housing Fund

The amount suggested for the Affordable Housing Fund is more substantial.

Over the years, the fund has only been given money sporadically.

The state seeded the revolving fund with $4 million in 1988 and waited 14 years to add another $5 million in 2002. It contributed $800,000 in both 2007 and 2015. It also appropriated $2 million and $2.5 million in 2016 and 2018, respectively. But that money was mainly targeted to people with substance use disorders and behavioral problems.

The governor has recommended adding $10 million to the fund and the House has recommended $5 million, but only as one-time appropriations. In Senate Bill 15, the Senate matched the governor’s $10 million and added a $5 million-a-year contribution from the real estate transfer tax, creating a dedicated fund.

But the House Finance Committee retained SB 15. The Senate Finance Committee then put it in the Senate’s proposed budget, though it reduced the one-time appropriation to $5 million and kept the $5 million-a-year transfer.

Housing appeals board

The New Hampshire Realtors Association has been strongly supportive of adding more money to the affordable housing fund. It has also been supportive of the proposed housing appeals board, which could overturn local zoning decisions.

The appeals board, based in the attorney general’s office, would hear appeals of final decisions by municipal boards involving housing and development. Currently, a developer can only challenge such a decision in court, which could result in a developer lose financing because of the time involved, killing the plan and making any court decision meaningless, according to Realtors and other supporters who say an appeals board could speed up that process.

But the board proposal has stalled in the Legislature. The House killed one version – HB 104 – on a voice vote. The Senate passed another version – SB 306 – by an 18-5 vote, but then tabled it. Now it is in the trailer bill with a $850,000 appropriation.

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