Originally published at Josiah Barlett Center for Public Policy. Republished with permission.
Granite Staters support building affordable housing in their communities, and even in their neighborhoods, a new poll from the Center for Ethics in Society at St. Anselm College has found.
The results upend the traditional view that residents don’t want new housing built close to them. That view has been used for decades to justify local regulations that limit the construction of homes and apartments. The new poll suggests that Granite Staters are much more open to change than previously assumed.
Granite Staters expressed in the poll strong support for building affordable housing in people’s own communities, changing local regulations to allow more housing, and limiting local planning and zoning regulations.
Among the findings:
BUILDING AFFORDABLE HOUSING
- By a 69%-29% margin, New Hampshire voters said “my community needs more affordable housing to be built.” This represents a 9% increase from last year’s survey.
- For the first time, the center asked a subset of voters about building affordable housing in their “neighborhood” instead of their “community.” While “community” might refer to a whole town or city, “neighborhood” sounds like a much smaller context to most people. Respondents still endorse building more affordable housing in their own neighborhood by a 7-point margin (50-43%).
CHANGING LAWS AND REGULATIONS
- By a 52-40% margin, New Hampshire voters support changing town and city zoning regulations to allow more housing to be built.
- By a 70-21% margin, respondents endorse setting a “hard limit” on how long local planning and zoning boards can take to review permits to build housing.
- By a 38-35% margin, Granite State voters endorse the concept of a bill that failed this session, which would have allowed property owners to build up to four housing units on any residentially zoned lot served by municipal water and sewer.
REEXAMINING WHERE HOUSING IS BUILT
- By a 61-37% margin, N.H. voters oppose the idea that multifamily housing should only be built in cities, not in suburbs and rural areas.
- By a 53-42% margin, voters oppose the state “doing more to prevent housing development and keep the state the way it is.” The poll’s data shows young people under 35 and retirees are generally the most supportive of building more homes and changing state and local laws to allow that to happen. As expected, non-homeowners are more likely than homeowners to endorse building affordable and multifamily housing. It also shows that while conservatives are less likely to endorse the concept of affordable housing, they are more likely than liberals to endorse having the state set a hard limit on municipal permit review timelines.
“Legislators have yet to address the acute housing shortage caused by local overregulation in this session, but these poll results show that Granite State voters don’t want to wait,” Jason Sorens, director of the Center for Ethics in Society, told the Josiah Bartlett Center. “They want their own towns to change the rules to allow more homes to be built, and they want state government to get involved by setting a hard limit on permit review times and maybe even directly preempting local zoning rules. Going full ostrich on the housing issue could hurt the legislative majority if the problem continues to go unaddressed.”
Though Gov. Chris Sununu championed housing reform at the start of the year, the Legislature killed most reform efforts. The biggest housing bill of the year (Senate Bill 400) passed the Senate, but stalled in the House over concerns about the political costs of limiting local governments’ ability to restrict new development.
The bill would have slightly curtailed the power of local boards to limit where residential housing is built, and it would have allocated more state funding to municipalities that allowed more housing.
The House removed those provisions and amended others, severely weakening the bill.
Last week, both chambers incorporated a watered down version of SB 400 into another bill, HB 1661. It requires local boards to include written, specific findings of fact when rejecting a housing application. It requires zoning boards to begin formal consideration of received applications within 90 days of receiving them, and planning boards within 65 days.
A requirement for municipalities to grant workforce housing the same regulatory allowances made for senior housing was changed from a “shall” to a “may.” And a provision forbidding local boards from putting age restrictions on workforce housing was removed.
Legislators also killed a bill to allow duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes on any single-family lot, one to forbid minimum lot sizes of more than half an acre unless it’s to accommodate a septic system, another to forbid minimum lot sizes of more than 10,000 square feet (excluding those with septic systems), and one forbidding proscriptions on workforce housing.
Legislators did pass a bill to create a commission to study barriers to housing construction.
A report published by the Josiah Bartlett Center last October, and written by the Center for Ethics in Society’s Sorens, detailed how local land use regulations have reduced the state’s housing supply and driven up prices.
The study found that residential land use regulations are associated with growing socioeconomic segregation and slowing population growth.
As housing becomes more expensive, fewer people are moving to New Hampshire, especially to those towns that are most expensive. Those who stay are disproportionately wealthy and college-educated, while middle- and lower-income families leave because they cannot find affordable housing. Costly housing in towns with better schools also limits families’ access to educational opportunity. Finally, the sprawl caused by anti-density policies such as minimum lot sizes increases drive times and road maintenance costs and worsens air and water quality.