‘Missing middle’ housing bill tabled by New Hampshire House

167-157 vote likely dooms measure for the session

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The NH House tabled a bill to override local zoning ordinances barring multi-family housing lots last week, dooming legislation advocates said could help address the housing crisis. In a 167-157 vote during Thursday’s House session, the chamber voted to place the bill, House Bill 1177, on the table, an action that prevents its passage unless two-thirds of the body votes to remove it from the table. The issue crossed party lines somewhat; 17 Republicans broke with their party to vote against tabling the bill, while eight Democrats voted in favor of it.

The bill would have required planning boards to allow owners of single-family homes and lots to create property subdivisions for up to four units, overriding single-family home zoning restrictions in those towns.

Under the bill, the units could be a four-unit building; four separate units; four townhouses; two duplexes; one duplex and two accessory dwelling units; or one single-family home with three accessory dwelling units. The bill would apply only to properties that are already serviced by water and sewer lines, and towns could impose other zoning restrictions on the positioning and appearance of the homes.

Supporters of the bill had portrayed it as a means to increase housing stock in towns and cities without large apartment complexes – which tend to draw controversy – by creating “infill” housing that uses existing homes and buildings.

In a 2020 report, the NH Housing Finance Authority cited research indicating that the state needed between 20,000 and 30,000 more housing units “to meet the demand of our state’s workforce and continue our economic growth.”

But on Thursday, opponents said the bill would override towns’ abilities to preserve neighborhood density, and warned that more population growth could affect current homeowners negatively.

“Should towns like Hampton Falls and Hampton be commanded by another top-down, one-size-fits-all solution to replace the suburbs with medium density apartment buildings?” said Rep. Max Abramson, a Seabrook Republican. “Over 40 feet high, blocking everyone’s view of the water. Would you want to see your neighborhood overbuilt?”

The tabling motion, brought by Rep. Al Baldasaro, a Londonderry Republican, cut off debate for the bill. But in a “parliamentary inquiry” speech moments before the vote, Rep. Ivy Vann, a Peterborough Democrat and the bill’s sponsor, said that the bill was explicitly intended to override local ordinances.

“If I know that New Hampshire is short somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 housing units, and if I know that our restrictive zoning is part of the reason that we cannot build more units … would I now vote red against the tabling motion so that we can debate this bill?” she said.

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