This is the third of a new blog post series exploring promising solutions for addressing our region’s housing crisis, at all scales and in all communities. Not everyone needs to be a housing expert in order to advocate for housing in their community – but Vital Communities and the White River Valley Consortium believe that a broader discussion of housing strategy, with those who know their own communities and their own experiences best, is essential for finding the right solutions. See the whole series here!
The legislative season is upon us! Here in the Upper Valley, we get to celebrate the joys of living in a bi-state region by enjoying not one, but TWO, statewide civic processes for debating how the policy will impact our region this year (not to mention the dozens of municipal elections that happen here!). In this edition of our Housing Solutions Blog, we wanted to highlight a few examples of how policymakers are choosing to address the housing crisis at the state and local level.
New Hampshire State Housing Policy
There are a number of housing-related bills working through various committees in the NH state legislature (Housing Action NH does a great job tracking them all). One such bill that is currently in the Senate Commerce Committee is SB 145 or the “Housing Champions Bill”. This bill establishes a voluntary program that recognizes municipalities that take action to establish more affordable housing. The types of actions that the program would recognize include improving zoning and regulations, training local land use board members, supporting water/sewer and other infrastructure improvements, and providing economic development incentives related to housing development.
Vermont State Housing Policy
There are two omnibus housing bills currently in work at the Vermont state legislature – one in the House and one in the Senate. Both bills aim to increase housing density by reducing parking minimums (no more than 1 per dwelling unit can be required by a municipality) as well as allowing for duplexes by right and an additional floor of habitable space in affordable housing and mixed-use developments wherever there is sewer and water.
The Senate bill borrows similar provisions from the House bill, but also adds some important Act 250 – the State’s landmark land use and development law – reforms. Namely, the bill changes the “dwelling unit” threshold to trigger Act 250 from 10 units to 25 units. The reforms would also release developments of over 25 units in designated downtown, village center and designated neighborhood development area from Act 250 restrictions.
The Senate bill also appropriates funding for the Vermont Rental Housing Improvement Program (VHIP), the Vermont Housing Conservation Board (VHCB), the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), and Vermont Housing and Finance Agency (VHFA). These appropriations will support existing and novel housing efforts ranging from homesharing to employer-sponsored housing to manufactured homes and much more.
Local Zoning Amendments
Not to be outdone at the state level, municipalities in the Upper Valley are utilizing their local controls to generate more homes for our communities. Lebanon, for example, has four zoning amendments on the March ballot relative ADUs, manufactured housing, and cottage development. Likewise, Enfield will have two zoning amendments on the March ballot that would allow two ADUs on an owner-occupied lot and reduce the minimum lot size where there is town sewer and water. Hanover, too, will soon have a public hearing scheduled to review several proposed zoning amendments, and Claremont has been taking steps in their zoning ordinance to make it easier to build an ADU.
The policy landscape on housing is always shifting and the work of municipal staff, boards, and statewide policymakers does not end with the legislative season. Moreover, our community members themselves appear evermore civically engaged in our regional housing issues. We here at Vital Communities try to keep our ears to the ground for new community initiatives that could be the next big policy solution on housing. If there is something we are missing, do not hesitate to tell us!