NIMBYism and Misguided Zoning

While there is overwhelming support for affordable housing and the rapid approval of proposed housing developments, according to a statewide survey by the Saint Anselm College Center for Ethics in Society, many communities are still erecting barriers to such development.

The study, published in January, shows that NIMBYism – the Not In My Back Yard objection to certain projects – while still persistent, is actually less of a hindrance. Instead, the main obstacle to affordable housing is voters reluctant to roll back planning and zoning regulations that are responsible for restricting the construction of new homes.

The spring 2020 poll shows that 63% of NH voters support more affordable housing even in their own communities and "want to limit the legal games some communities might play to prevent development". However, many voters don't seem to realize that strict zoning regulations and affordable housing are conflicting goals in NH, the report said.

While NIMBYism is less of an obstacle, it is still a hurdle for developers to overcome. There are still naysayers who reject projects. What makes things difficult is that they're not on the same page as what they're doing and don't want to be in their back yard. “Homeowners prefer single-family homes. Non-homeowners prefer new builds that have either city-provided or developer-provided infrastructure that are not age-restricted and include both low-income and luxury units, ”the report said.

Unveiled at the Housing We Need forum in December 2020, the report is aimed at government homeowners who generally don't want apartments, condominiums, or mixed-use settlements – all essential to a healthy housing market with an affordable workforce – and they want smaller developments .

“Non-homeowners can also be NIMBYs, but in a different way. They don't like demolitions, maybe because they are worried about gentrification and they want new infrastructure. But in other ways, they think non-homeowners are more likely to be YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard). They want mixed income developments and they don't like age restrictions, ”the study says.

Where there is agreement, there is a glimmer of hope for proponents of affordable housing. Both homeowners and non-homeowners dislike the age-restricted development trend – the 55+ parishes that have spread across the state – suggesting that "New Hampshire parishes are often wrong about planning and development" the report says. “They assume that voters are concerned about 'children in schools' and prefer housing only for seniors, but the opposite is true. It is possible that city administrations and members of the planning committee are more concerned about the supposed fiscal implications of new developments than ordinary voters. "

Overcome stereotypes

One of the biggest challenges in developing more housing for workers is the stereotypes people have of affordable housing, says Robert Tourigny, executive director of NeighborWorks Southern NH, who himself often encounters opposition as a nonprofit developer. As advocates of affordable housing, these groups have tried for years to turn the tide.

“We are developing into an underserved market segment. It is important that local elected officials understand (and hopefully accept) this and serve as a model for other communities, ”he says.

It is possible to overcome NIMBYism. Tourigny tells of a push for a project that had spoken out against development for years until she went to NeighborWorks properties and visited them herself. “She said, 'These people take good care of their property; they are good looking, attractive buildings. For years I have spoken out against the development of this website. I know that it is inevitable that something will be built there. I wouldn't mind having these people as neighbors. "I was amazed," he says.

Create balanced communities

Most NIMBYism is driven by the fear that affordable housing will mainly attract younger families, bringing more students to schools, straining school budgets, and driving up tax rates. To keep student numbers down, communities have restricted or prevented family-friendly construction in favor of senior housing, says Peter Francese, who founded American Demographics Magazine. He and co-author Lorraine Stuart Merrill, who wrote about agriculture and land use in NH for more than 30 years, published "Communities & Consequences: The Unbalancing of New Hampshire’s Human Ecology, & What We Can Do About It" in 2008. Buch called for land use policy changes to avoid the state's current crisis.

Francese saw the challenges firsthand and switched to developer Dick Anagnost from Anagnost Companies. “As he was preparing to write the book, I took him to two different planning committee meetings. I was at my third hearing, but requests for over 55s that were filed in one hearing after mine that night were approved in a single hearing, ”says Anagnost. "He was shocked to see that if it is over 55 years old it will be approved, but if it is family or co-worker it will take one to three years."

Anagnost says the state has been talking about increasing the stock of affordable housing for years, but is still a long way from catching up to demand. He adds that he got into the affordable housing business because he owned a Harley-Davidson dealership in Manchester and his mechanics and salespeople drove his mechanics and salespeople from towns north and west of Concord because those were the only places they would could afford.

This imbalance has helped NH have one of the oldest populations in the country. Mike Claflin, executive director of Affordable Housing Education and Development (AHEAD) in Littleton, says that NH homeowners are of an older age and without a healthy mix of affordable housing, communities will lose some of their liveliness.

“When cities don't seem to want young families in their communities, that's a problem. These are the committee and volunteer people who have the real resilience that these small communities need, but if there isn't a place to live and afford they won't come. To say that you don't want these people to come here is what I think is incredibly short-sighted, ”says Claflin.

Seeing their book unfold in the state with dire warnings, Francese and Merrill published a follow-up book in 2020, Communities & Consequences II: Rebalancing New Hampshire’s Human Ecology.

“A balanced community is one that offers enough living space for everyone – young people, professionals, those who have a family or want to start one,” says Francese. But many NH communities are out of whack because of a “persistent myth” that affordable housing drives taxes up. Government data show that most school populations are declining, even in communities where affordable housing has been built.

“It's totally wrong, but people believe so firmly in the myth that every time the planning committee meets, people stand up and shout that school taxes go through the roof when a city allows these new units to be built,” says Franz. He and Merrill say it was a holdover from the 80s and 90s when families moved to NH in large numbers, new schools needed to be built, and some communities grew very quickly. It shocked some given the pace of change.

The lack of affordable housing feeds the labor shortage that NH has experienced for years. Industries that are acutely feeling the effects of this shortage include assisted living, nursing homes and elderly care facilities, which had difficulties recruiting before the pandemic.

Move projects forward

Owning two assisted living facilities in Durham, Harmony Homes at Hickory Pond and Harmony Homes By the Bay, John and Maggie Randolph understand the difficulty of finding staff. When they learned that some of their 80 employees commute an hour or more each way, they increased salaries by up to 21% over two years to cover the high cost of housing.

After seeing the impact the lack of affordable housing had on employees, they took matters into their own hands. They are currently building seven one-room staff residences and a daycare center, due for completion in June or July on the site of one of their assisted living facilities in Durham. They also plan to build affordable units in Dover.

The Randolphs hope the Dover project will be a model for the Seacoast and they plan to build more. "We face a lot of resistance because it's called affordable housing and a lot of people say, 'This is going to ruin my neighborhood," "says John Randolph. “Then we explain that affordable housing in Dover is suitable for someone earning $ 42,000. These are your novice firefighters, your teachers, your cops … people who have a hard time living in the city they work for. "

For builders, however, building affordable housing is an expensive undertaking. Randolph says a developer must have enough resources to survive the approval process. The Randolphs bought the Dover property a year ago and will soon be breaking the ground.

“You have to be patient and persistent,” he says. "If you want to come in and build in 90 days then pick the low hanging fruit (age restricted living) but if you want more aggressive use of the property you may need to take a little more time with the cities you work with" , he says.

Lloyd’s Hills Apartments, a 28-unit project in Bethlehem, took just over five years, says Claflin of AHEAD. “There was quite a pushback at first,” says Claflin. "We finally crossed the finish line and the tenants started at the end of February."

AHEAD operates primarily in the northern Grafton and Coos counties. According to Claflin, rural areas are even more difficult to develop than the more densely populated southern regions.

“Bethlehem is a good example of how many people fear the unknown. A vocal minority can really push back and cause a project like this to be delayed, ”he says. The delay added $ 2 million to the final cost of the project.

NeighborWorks Southern NH recently completed The Merrimack Townhomes, a new rental project of 45 townhouse-style apartments in nine buildings and the first affordable family project in the city of Merrimack. Tourigny says the process went pretty smoothly because the land had already been approved for building older people, but they wanted to build affordable family homes.

“There were some hoops that you had to jump through. We had to go through the ZBA and the Planning Committee to prove that it wouldn't have any more impact on the community than the previously approved senior housing project, ”he says. "We had to reduce the number of items from 60 to 45."

Tourigny says a similar project in Londonderry, Townhomes at Whittemore Place, took 10 years to bear fruit from the initial talks with the city to the actual construction of the project. “We had to lay a lot of groundwork to make it easier for them to understand,” he says.

The Lakes Region community developers bought two properties in 2016 for affordable units. LRCD also recently completed renovations to the Ames Brook Apartments, a 40-unit apartment complex in Ashland.

Managing director Carmen Lorentz says that her efforts are often aimed at maintaining affordable housing stock as well as new buildings. But they are trying to build affordable single-family homes for first-time buyers. Without federal incentives to support affordable multi-family projects, the development of single-family homes can only work if the community really comes together, says Lorentz. LRCD is working with the Eastern Lakes Region Housing Coalition on a single family project in Wolfeboro to build 20 homes for people earning 75-120% of the median income in the region.

"We got a grant to pay for the roads, water and sewerage and don't have to include that in the costs," says Lorentz. “We want to keep the price as close to $ 200,000 as possible. If we can show that this model works, other communities may want to work with us. "

The LRCD is also looking for ways to provide supportive accommodation to people who are chronically homeless or struggling with mental illness or addictions, says Lorentz. “There are quite significant barriers for these people to qualifying for a typical rental property,” she says.

The Lakes Region, like the Mount Washington Valley, is heavily reliant on tourism, which sets the demand for workforce housing versus short-term vacation rentals and second homes, and businesses may need to act to move the needle. “There's a gap between the business community and the people who make the local land use decisions,” says Lorentz. “We're starting to come across the NIMBYs now. … With market demand so high, I think some churches are happy to only let wealthy people live there. Some recognize the need for young families and workers, but not all. "

Bags of progress

Filmmaker Jay Childs, who made documentaries based on Communities and Consequences, says in the 2008 film that the consequences are more theoretical, but now that the crisis is here, people are starting to notice.

“It was a storm to come, something looming on the horizon, but now it is having the economic impact predicted in many of these communities. There were some rural churches where I had good conversations with people. School attendance has gone down and now they really want young families to move in and try to find ways to get it done, ”says Childs.

The film encourages people to travel across city and town limits to work together and find mutual opportunities, says Merrill. “I've heard from some parishes that their planning committee is putting this on the agenda for some time each year because of the film. "She says," That's all we can ask. "

One of the film's success stories is the passage of a workers' housing ordinance in Conway. Childs says strong leaders did the hard work with city governments, including Victoria Laracy, then executive director of the Mount Washington Valley Housing Coalition, and coalition colleague Andy Dean, a partner in the Cooper Cargill Chant law firm. Dean says the Conway labor shortage has reached a boiling point. "(It) got to a point where we got tired of just talking about it," says Dean.

The city is not ready to work out a workers' housing ordinance, he says, so it's up to the coalition. “I think many planning bodies see their role as interpreting and enforcing existing zoning regulations, but not being progressive and thinking about solving problems. So it's up to the advocacy groups to make changes, ”says Dean.

He added that the coalition had examined ordinances from other NH communities and other states and worked through 15 to 20 drafts to develop the framework. “We needed input from all the other experts and the urban planning committee,” he says. “We met with engineers, spoke to the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority. We wanted it to blend in with what was already there and complement what was already in the zoning. "

Anyone who works in planning and regional planning committees can influence developments. There are many senior residents serving on planning bodies because they are retired and have more time, but they may also stick to a style that does not suit the needs of the community or even their own family.

"One member didn't really realize the problem until his son tried to come back here and couldn't find an affordable apartment," says Dean. “That was really what convinced him that this was a big problem. The older generation may have a vision that children will come home and possibly spend time with grandchildren, and that is just not possible. "

Maine-based Avesta Housing, which has built several affordable housing projects in NH, is working on River Turn Woods Phase I, the first of several phases of housing on Conway's Technology Lane, and will create much-needed new mixed-income housing.

"We partnered with the Mount Washington Valley Economic Council to buy the land from them," said Rebecca Hatfield, vice president of Real Estate. "It will serve families and individuals with 50% and 60% of the median income in the region."

A business problem

Dean says affordable housing is housing for workers. “It's for people who work in your community. Since this is a resort community, many of the workers here do typical hourly wage jobs, and some work in multiple jobs to support their families, ”he says. “Part of our success is that we've gotten a lot of encouragement from employers like Settlers Green, Cranmore, and Storyland who can't find work. If your larger taxpayers are complaining about the same problem, the city is probably paying a little more attention. "

Harrison Chancellor, executive director of the Mount Washington Valley Housing Coalition, says they have the support of ski resort executives who came to the area and couldn't find affordable housing. “Walmart is even willing to provide grants for projects. Housing is an economic problem and companies are slowly feeling it in their wallets, ”says Kanzler.

Another area with a severe shortage of labor housing is the Obertal. Two of the region's employment centers, Dartmouth College in Hanover and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, with more than 1,000 job vacancies, are developing their own housing solutions. Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health has its own project underway and has launched a call for proposals to build 466 housing units.

It also benefits from another project. North Branch Construction in Concord is working on a project in Lebanon for Michaels Organization, a national student dormitory developer. Joseph Campbell, president of North Branch Construction, says the 300-unit, 600-bed project will cost $ 63 million.

"Units are being offered to PhD students first, and any remaining available will be available to tenants in the area, such as staff at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center," says Campbell. "The existing housing market is relieved considerably because all these students are currently scattered in different apartments in Hanover and Lebanon."

Council for Housing Stability

The shortage of starter housing and low rental vacancies are contributing to the homelessness exacerbated by the pandemic.

Recognizing the challenges involved, Governor Chris Sununu created a Housing Stability Council in November 2020 to develop and implement a plan to meet the evolving needs for housing stability for all citizens. Four main working groups have been set up, including: planning and regulation; Data analysis and integration; Housing instability and the homelessness system; and regional leadership and coordination.

"The council is doing an excellent job of realizing that it is not one size fits all," says Chancellor. "This is a long haul problem and it will take years, but the answer is more housing."

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