During New Hampshire’s 2011 legislative session, NLIHC state coalition partner Housing Action New Hampshire successfully defended the state’s Workforce Housing Law from H.B. 368, a bill that would make compliance with the law optional. Advocates have successfully defended the law from repeated challenges since it was enacted in 2008. While celebrating their victory this session, advocates anticipate the law will be challenged again in the 2012 legislative session.
Advocates and legislators worked for over ten years to develop the law, which “is one of the major policy advances in terms of affordable housing in New Hampshire in years,” said Elissa Margolin, Housing Action NH’s Director. The Workforce Housing Law codified a 1991 state Supreme Court decision requiring every city and town to provide “reasonable and realistic opportunities” for development of workforce housing, with a particular emphasis on the development of rental and multi-family housing. Advocates say the law has created greater opportunity for the construction and rehabilitation of homes for ownership for households with income up to 100% of the area median income (AMI), and rental housing for people up to 60% of AMI. Communities have responded in a variety of ways, such as changing local regulations to allow for development of multi-family housing where it was previously restricted or adopting inclusionary zoning regulations like density bonuses in exchange for long-term affordability covenants.
Shortly after the law went into effect on January 1, 2010, legislation was introduced in the 2010 session that would have, in effect, overturned the law. Housing advocates quickly responded by building a coalition with small business owners and the statewide Business and Industry Association, stressing that the law bolsters New Hampshire’s economy by allowing businesses to hire and retain a skilled labor force. The coalition successfully defended and strengthened the law in 2010, convincing the state legislature to eliminate parts of a bill that would have weakened it, and instead to adopt provisions that call for long-term affordability covenants for properties developed under the statute.
Despite being upheld in 2010, the law was challenged again in the 2011 legislative session. H.B. 368 was introduced, and advocates mobilized to defeat the bill. The House Committee on Municipal and County Government, which has a significant Republican majority, rejected H.B. 368 by a 14 to 1 margin. However, the full House overrode the committee’s recommendation and passed the bill as introduced. The Senate Committee on Public and Municipal Affairs also rejected H.B. 368, and their vote was upheld by a unanimous voice vote on the Senate floor, defeating the bill.
In preparation for an expected challenge to the law in the 2012 legislative session, Housing Action NH and its allies are working to proactively educate legislators, particularly in the House of Representatives. “People raise opposition to the law, but once they actually understand it, they often end up supporting it,” said Margolin. “Lack of affordable housing is a chronic problem in New Hampshire. This law is a critical way to address it. There are some communities that are fighting it because they don’t want affordable housing in their towns, but without the law, working families would lose out on economic opportunities. New Hampshire’s economic growth would be crippled without increasing access to housing that families can truly afford.”
For more information, contact Elissa Margolin at email@example.com.