On August 23, a handful of state laws crafted to address New Hampshire’s housing shortage take effect. Though the big reforms were left on the Legislature’s cutting room floor, these modest changes might prove helpful.
The splashiest change, which might prompt some warrant articles next spring, applies zoning exemptions carved out for 55+ communities to workforce housing as well.
Most of the changes are more technical fixes to ensure that municipalities don’t stick proposed developments in a legal limbo simply by delaying or refusing to act on applications.
These changes amount to mostly modest improvements in the system that will make it slightly less antagonistic to new housing construction. But with home prices and rents remaining at record levels, pressure to pass more powerful reforms is likely to prompt more legislation next year.
The new laws will:
- Require the Office of Planning and Development to create and offer training to planning and zoning boards. The initial idea was to require board member training, but that was dropped in favor of making the training available at no cost to board members.
- Require that any fee imposed by a local land use board be published “in a location accessible to the public during normal business hours.” Any fee not published at the time an application is submitted shall be waived.
- Require that by July 1, 2023, any local incentive established for housing older persons “shall be deemed applicable to workforce housing development.” Many communities exempt 55+ communities from certain zoning requirements. The idea is to create exemptions that allow housing to be built only for people who don’t have school-age children. This change would apply those restrictions to workforce housing as well.
- Require that local land use boards issue a final written decision for all applications, and require those decisions to “include specific written findings of fact that support the decision.” Failure to offer specific, written findings of fact would be grounds for automatic reversal by the Superior Court.
- Require zoning boards of adjustment to issue a final decision on an application within 90 days of receiving the application.
- Require planning boards to determine whether submitted applications are complete at the next regularly scheduled meeting, or within 30 days after receiving the application. Boards must then act on an application within 65 days of determining that it’s complete.
- Require selectmen or city councils to certify approval of a plat if the planning board fails to act within the allotted time. Failure of selectmen or city councils to act will constitute grounds for the Superior Court to act if petitioned to do so by the applicant.
- Allow municipalities to acquire land for use as workforce housing, but not by eminent domain.
- Allow municipalities to lease basements, ground and second floors of public buildings for residential use, negotiate the sale or lease of property for residential use, and acquire, improve, operate, maintain or promote residential developments “aimed at increasing the available housing stock within the municipality.”