“Housing” is a massive, multi-dimensional issue. The September meeting of the Monadnock Housing Roundtable focused on breaking it down into manageable pieces and identifying concrete action items within particular areas of interest.
Most of the meeting was dedicated to small-group discussion (we’re becoming Zoom breakout room pros). Each group focused on an area of interest that emerged during the previous Roundtable meeting and through a follow-up survey. Attendees chose to concentrate on:
- State legislation. Since housing issues span municipal boundaries, some challenges may be difficult to address on solely a town-by-town basis. How might state policy better support a range of housing options and what role might the Roundtable play in the development of new or reformed statute?
- Municipal policy and advocacy. Although some strategies might be best pursued at the state level, most land use policy and decisions are made at the local level. What are steps the Roundtable might pursue to promote changes in zoning, subdivision regulations, parking requirements, and other local land use regulations?
- Regional coordination. In other parts of the state, regional housing coalitions have formed to sustain housing advocacy efforts. Might the Monadnock Region benefit from a similar coalition. If so, what organizational structure might be most effective?
In retrospect, it’s interesting that groups formed according to geographic scale, perhaps indicating that change is needed at the state, local, and regional level in order to address the housing challenges we collectively face.
Here’s a brief summary of what each group talked about.
The state legislation group reviewed legislative activity from the 2019-2020 session and noted that while none of housing-related bills were passed into law (at least in part because of coronavirus pandemic), some of them could be re-introduced during future legislative sessions. The group noted general support for all of the bills, with one group member noting that he testified in support of HB 1629-FN, which proposed creating training resources for municipal planning boards and zoning boards of adjustment.
The group discussed outreach to past bill sponsors as a possible next step, to gauge interest in reintroducing legislation. In cases where sponsors intend to reintroduce bills, a closer reading of bill language may be warranted to evaluate potential for improvements.
Municipal Policy and Advocacy
The municipal policy and advocacy group discussed new efforts in New Hampshire to reform local regulations, key policy challenges at the local level, the hurdles posed by public resistance to housing projects.
Conversation touched on the Project for Code Reform, a new effort by New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, in coordination with the Congress for New Urbanism, The effort will entail an extensive review of policy challenges inhibiting housing development and the development of recommended legislation intended to address those challenges. The initiative will also include crafting local guidance on how to effectively implement measures enacted at the state level.
Other issues discussed included:
- Parking requirements. Excessive mandatory parking minimums can increase the cost of housing development. Additional costs are then passed on to buyers/renters or can even render some projects financially unfeasible.
- Innovative land use controls. Under NH statute, municipalities have a toolbox of regulatory techniques at their disposal intended to encourage creative development strategies. The group questioned, however, whether authorized strategies, e.g. cluster development, provide sufficient financial incentive in order to make projects viable.
- Documenting housing options that already exist. Taking photos of housing types that already exist in the community, including multifamily or workforce housing, may help address concerns that supporting development of these housing options would be detrimental to community character.
- Gathering testimonials from professionals impacted by a lack of housing diversity. Stories from teachers, nursing aids, and other essential workers could help help change perceptions on who in our communities struggle to find an adequate place to live.
The regional coordination group discussed different roles that a regional coalition may have, and some of the prerequisites needed for a coalition to be feasible.
Prior to the establishment of any regional housing coalition, the group also agreed that there needed to be a definition of what is meant by “region”, and who is included in that definition.
Of the different roles and responsibilities discussed in the group, a couple of overarching themes emerged.
The Coalition as a data clearinghouse.
- There was an expressed need by the group for an update to the regional housing needs assessment, and that it was difficult to tackle the issue without knowing what is out there.
- The coalition was also floated as being a potential resource for vacancies and housing availability, mentions that people contact towns looking for a place to live and outside of their community there is little information on what is available.
- Difficult to understand whether a development or project is a “good” project i.e. tackling the housing issue without knowing quantitatively what the needs are.
The Coalition as a voice of advocacy.
- Able to put out a consistent message on housing issues across the region
- A coalition can work to build a framework to help view the housing issue, such as viewing it from the issue of the “housing wage” or through the concept of the “missing middle.”
- Can be that crucial voice at the public meetings to serve as a proponent of projects.
- Can be a way to collect and publicize the human side of the housing crisis – collecting 30 second stories from residents around the region on how the crisis has impacted their experience in the region.
Some other items mentioned include:
- Tapping into other regional conversations already occurring. Two major examples is the upcoming promoting the region taskforce, and collaboration between chambers of commerce on the eastern and western side of the Monadnock region.
- Some sort of funded position and a dedicated staff embedded into an existing organization is crucial for the success of any housing coalition
- There is a critical need to tie into business resources and the business community
- There needs to be a consistent framework or series of frameworks by which the group approaches the issue.
Wrapping Up & Next Steps
During breakout group discussions, we continued to build our understanding of the issues within each one of these topic areas. Given that this region-wide conversation on housing is still in its beginning stages, we weren’t quite ready to identify specific action items that we would take on—either is individuals, smaller groups, as one collective entity.
There was recognition that since “housing” is such an expansive issue, with many dimensions vying for attention, we may need to find ways to collaborate between meetings of the Roundtable, perhaps convening as smaller groups to work on particular projects. We may need to develop other mechanisms for sustaining communication. This website is one response to that need. There could be others, including the creation of a Slack channel to serve as an online forum on housing issues.
It was also observed, however, that larger meetings of the Roundtable are important for breaking out of traditional silos and preventing fragmented or duplicated activity. As recruitment to the effort continues, meetings of the whole group will be useful for introducing new members to the wider network of housing advocates in our region. They will also continue to serve as an important opportunity for peer learning and growing a regional consciousness regarding top challenges and models for action.
We’re currently trying to schedule the next Roundtable meeting for late October/early November. If you’re interested in participating, indicate you’re availability by taking the Doodle poll here.