THE MARCH 26 op-ed by Max Latona and Jason Sorens made many assertions regarding property rights and New Hampshire’s housing shortages. They made claims too broad to even be reasonably debated within the confines of this one response. However, the claim that Republican legislators are blocking solutions to New Hampshire’s housing shortage by tabling HB586 must be addressed.
As a Republican state legislator, and someone who proposed an amendment to address the most problematic parts of this bill, I’d like to shed some light on what is currently written into this piece of legislation and why it did not pass.
It is true that a majority of legislators voted to table HB 586 during the last House session, which essentially postpones and/or suspends consideration of this bill. It can still be un-tabled and voted on this session, but it now requires a larger majority of votes to pass. As a new legislator, I am not privy to the inside-baseball politics involved in the decision to table this bill. However, I do know that HB 586, as currently written, contains many issues that should alarm Granite Stater’s and certainly has alarmed many legislators.
For starters, the bill is incredibly complex and written with a lawyer’s talent to craftily overhaul more than 20 New Hampshire statutes without much ado. It makes changes to the current decision processes of local land use boards and puts developers at an advantage over local boards. It adds unreasonable time restraints on planning boards when considering large development projects, and it fundamentally restructures the land use approval process to essentially remove any speed bumps a developer might face when seeking project approval.
There are two other aspects of the bill that are even more concerning. The first is a new requirement for any residential property owner to post a bond in order to appeal an abutment decision to a superior court. Requiring a bond will push the appeal process immediately out of reach for many individuals, and will certainly eliminate the ability of lower income and fixed-income residents to have their day in court. This unfairly provides an advantage to large developers with deep pockets by letting them grind down any opposition to their proposed projects through legal costs.
The other concerning aspect of HB 586 is the creation of the New Hampshire Housing Champion Certification Program Advisory Board and its relationship with the Office of Strategic Initiative. This advisory board is predominately stocked with special interest groups, to include Developer and Real Estate Association representatives.
As currently written, HB 586 dictates that the Office of Strategic Initiative will have the authority to determine whatever housing ordinances and regulations it deems necessary to promote workforce housing, even to the point of withholding tax breaks to those municipalities that have legally-compliant ordinances. The problem: these proposed ordinances and regulations would be approved by the New Hampshire Housing Champion Certification Program Advisory Board.
There is little doubt that developers have long waited for changes to local zoning ordinances that would mandate the adoption of higher density housing projects. The workforce housing push will attract millions of dollars of investment, some of which will be state grant money. Having the ability to decide which ordinances and regulations will most benefit large-scale new construction is not a decision we should entrust solely to a board stocked with special interest groups. The current makeup of the proposed advisory board invites back-door dealings, and a lack of transparency and accountability for the taxpayer. In short, HB 586 provides all the needed ingredients for potential corruption.
To address the most concerning issues of HB 586, an amendment was proposed which would have been introduced if the bill made it to the House floor for a vote. This amendment allows towns and cities to have the ability to address their workforce housing needs in a manner that does not disadvantage citizens or invite a lack of transparency into the system. This amendment was shared with all legislators a few days before the House session, along with a lengthy explanation on why the changes were necessary. You can view what was sent to other legislators at this link sueforhollis.com/legislative-news.
As legislators, we should view every bill through the prism of taxpayer accountability and transparency. We should also be willing to address any limitations within a bill that benefits the system and not the citizen — even as we work together to address our state’s most pressing needs.