From the Field: New Hampshire Wins Protections for Accessory Dwelling Units

Affordable housing advocates in New Hampshire celebrated a significant victory this month when Governor Maggie Hassan (D) signed Senate Bill 146, legislation that allows single-family homeowners to add an accessory dwelling unit as a matter of right through a conditional use permit or by special exception as determined by their municipalities. The bill removes a significant regulatory barrier to increasing rental homes at no cost to taxpayers.

Prior to S.B. 146, municipalities had complete authority over accessory dwelling units and the ability to ban them altogether. The new law takes effect June 1, 2017, giving municipalities time to amend or adopt local zoning ordinances to comply.

In a state with 32 units of affordable and available rental housing per 100 extremely low income renter households (see NLIHC’s GAP report at http://nlihc.org/research/gap-report), S.B. 146 removes a regulatory barrier to the creation of more affordable and appropriate places to call home for New Hampshire’s seniors, persons with disabilities, caregivers, other low wage workers, and young people.

“By passing this law, the Granite State has become one of a handful in the nation that requires local governments to allow accessory dwellings,” said Ben Frost, Director of Legal and Public Affairs at New Hampshire Housing. “Our Legislature has done it in a way that maintains as much local control as possible, while also clearly telling municipalities that they can’t just say no to ADUs.”

Sponsored by State Senator David Boutin (R) and co-sponsored by Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate, S.B. 146 cleared the NH legislature on strong bipartisan votes. Governor Hassan signed the bill March 16, saying, “We must always be working to increase safe, affordable housing options so that all people can live independently and engage in their communities, empowering them to contribute to our economic and civic life.”

The legislative success was not easily won. The bill was introduced in January 2015 at the urging of the New Hampshire Home Builders Association and supported by the New Hampshire Realtors Association and the state’s Business and Industry Association, who saw it as a way to add more affordable and workforce housing units without increasing state taxes. Such support helped get the bill through the Senate, where it was amended and passed on a voice vote.

When the bill reached the House, however, it faced opposition from some Representatives about its technical details and issues of local versus state control. With strong support for the bill from housing and developer advocates, the House Municipal & County Government Committee chair strove for compromises in conference committee.

Housing Action NH, an NLIHC state partner, become heavily involved when it learned that the compromise bill that came out of committee could face stiff opposition on the House floor. Housing Action NH engaged its members and other partners to reach out to legislators in the run-up to the vote.  Advocates humanized the issue for legislators, sharing messages and messengers that highlighted who the bill would help, particularly seniors and families with disabled members and their caregivers. Bringing in the New Hampshire chapter of AARP and well respected disability advocates into the ad hoc coalition of developers, realtors and other business voices helped legislators understand the real people who would be impacted. The House passed the bill by a 2-1 margin, including majorities of both parties. 

“The passage of S.B. 146 is an important policy victory for affordable housing,” said Elissa Margolin, Director of Housing Action NH. “It removes local zoning barriers to this very real solution that, for many, meet specific needs, while still balancing municipal oversight and respecting local control.”

For more information contact Elissa Margolin at elissa@housingactionnh.org