Thursday, May 22, 2008

A New Hope

It appears the state of New Hampshire is finally waking up to the problem the lack of workforce housing has been causing and doing something about it. Despite the housing boom that took place over the last few years, very little of the housing built over that time was for low and middle income families in towns and cities where they were needed. Without this kind of housing potential employees cannot find a place to live anywhere near where they are hoping to work. Employers are finding it difficult to fill jobs because affordable housing isn't available. With increasing oil and gas prices local housing is becoming even more important.

One of the roadblocks to such housing has been the cities and towns themselves, many of which made it difficult to build anything but senior housing or more upscale single family homes. The only way developers could build that type of housing was to take the municipality to court to force them to comply with the state's anti-snob zoning laws and court decisions. Most developers won't spend the time or money to do this, taking on less controversial jobs and developments. Unfortunately that leaves far too many people without a place to live and employers with jobs going unfilled. If the problem gets bad enough, employers will relocate to places where they can fill jobs. That's nothing anyone in New Hampshire wants. Now it appears the state is finally taking steps to alleviate this problem.

The New Hampshire Senate on Wednesday agreed to some improvements by the House to Senate Bill 342 that now goes to Gov. John Lynch for his signature.

"We have been working for years to pass this kind of legislation to remove barriers that have made it difficult to expand the availability of workforce housing," said Sen. Martha Fuller Clark, D-Portsmouth, the prime sponsor of SB342. "This bill is long overdue and we should all be proud of its passage."

SB342 embraces a major goal of the state's Business and Industry Association, which identified expanded opportunities for workforce housing as a top priority this year.

"The lack of varied housing poses a threat to our state's economy by making it difficult to expand our workforce or attract new businesses," said Senate President Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord. "Our workers are the backbone of our economy and we need to ensure they have decent and affordable options for housing."

This is something that was long overdue.

It's been a problem in the Granite State for the last 20 years or so, where one town after another enacted zoning ordinances making it difficult, if not impossible for developers to build the kind of housing needed. Too many towns believed the old canard about every family moving into town added two kids to the schools, and hence to the tax burden. Therefore senior housing and higher end homes were preferred because in the town's view they didn't burden them with more kids or could afford the higher taxes that more than offset the cost of more kids entering the school system. But the towns were wrong and in the long run they hurt themselves and the businesses located there and in nearby towns.

Now there's a chance to change that and make sure the Granite State's economic future is a good one.

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