Sununu, task force unveil bipartisan plan to deal with housing crisis

Gov. Chris Sununu presented a bipartisan legislative plan Wednesday to address the chronic shortage of affordable housing in the state.

CONCORD — Gov. Chris Sununu and a task force unveiled a series of ambitious proposals to address the state’s housing shortage that includes hard-and-fast deadlines for local decisions, tax incentives for construction and a potential tax cut for home buyers.

Speaking at a news conference Wednesday, Sununu called it “the most comprehensive plan on housing that this state has ever seen.”

The governor said the task force found the vacancy rate for two-bedroom apartments this past summer was below 1 percent in virtually every county in the state and the inventory of homes available for sale was near record lows.

“We know there is a demand there. This is not a political issue in any way, whatsoever,” Sununu said.

Authoring the two bills to carry out the task force recommendations are state representatives Willis Griffith, D-Manchester; Joe Alexander, R-Goffstown; Tom Loughman, D-Hampton; and Gates Lucas, R-Sunapee.

“This plan is a strong step forward in addressing the housing crisis in New Hampshire and is a result of bipartisan collaboration with housing experts,” said Griffith, who chairs the Young Democrats Caucus. “This package of bills will be the beginning of a thoughtful discussion in which I invite all stakeholders, community members, and legislators to participate.”

Rep. Alexander said the hard work of the task force named by Sununu paid off.

“We are in a position to pass legislation that will solve one of the greatest problems facing New Hampshire,” Alexander said.

Dean Christon, executive director of the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, said the answer lies in changing the culture.

“We are trying to create an environment that is welcoming,” he said.

The task force report said it must come up with short- and long-term housing solutions or the issue will be an even bigger drag on economic growth than it is now.

“The most immediate impact of this housing shortage is to the state’s workforce,” the report said. “Our state’s most valuable commodity for its employers is an educated and available workforce. Quite simply, if that workforce has no adequate housing choices, the retention and recruitment of additional workforce could be threatened.”

“In light of the threat posed to our economy by low vacancy, inventory and affordability, our view is that the state must acknowledge that we face a housing crisis and that without statewide action we put our economic sustainability under unnecessary stress and threaten the current, positive trends in our economic health.”

Here are some of the key findings:

• Allow mandatory inclusionary zoning: This would permit towns and cities to adopt inclusionary zoning that would require incentives for the construction of affordable housing, including higher density than would otherwise be allowed.

• Timeline for decisions: This would set a hard-and-fast deadline of 65 days for planning boards and 90 days for zoning boards to act on projects before them.

• Update TIF districts: This would make it clear this redevelopment tax break program used commonly for downtown commercial building could be used for residential development.

• Affordable-housing tax cut: The task force recommends over five years creating a break from the state real estate transfer tax for those who buy homes costing up to $300,000.

• Housing champion: This would create a voluntary certification program to encourage cities and towns to get this new designation as having a friendly regulatory environment for housing.

Saturday, January 18, 2020
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