BUSINESS QUARTERLY: Grants allow towns to study housing

Ivy Vann presents housing data for the town of Temple during a housing forum in November.

Ivy Vann presents housing data for the town of Temple during a housing forum in November. STAFF FILE PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI


For the Ledger-Transcript

Published: 04-23-2024 9:21 AM

Modified: 04-23-2024 8:31 PM

In 2022 the State of New Hampshire, in recognition of the housing shortage in the state, created a grant program to fund work in towns that wished to explore the housing situation in their town and consider ways to increase housing availability and housing choice.

The grants were called Housing Opportunity Planning grants, familiarly known as HOP grants. The program was administered by PlanNH, a statewide urban planning nonprofit, and the NH Housing Finance Authority. The purpose of the grants was to allow towns to hire planning professionals to assist in the necessary work, particularly in towns which had no full-time planning staff.

Grants were issued in three phases: housing needs assessment, code audit and regulatory reform. Needs assessment looked at the current state of housing and the likely build-out if nothing was changed. Code audits were a close look at all existing regulation in the town (zoning code, site plan, subdivision regulations) to see where housing choice was being diminished, and regulatory reform was funding for actually rewriting a town’s code.

All three phases included an intensive public engagement component, with the idea that if townspeople understood the issues they would be supportive of code changes to address them.

Locally, both Temple and Dublin applied for and received HOP grants for the first and second phases of the project – housing needs assessment and code audit. Both towns assembled a citizen committee for the HOP work, especially to support the public engagement activities. The HOP grant program included training for these volunteers so that they had a common understanding of the issues and the language around housing and housing choice.

Temple and Dublin both engaged Carol Ogilvie, a long-time New Hampshire planner, and myself to do the necessary work. The housing needs assessments in both towns showed conclusively, but not surprisingly, that median house prices were thoroughly out of reach for any household earning the area median wage in southwest New Hampshire.

The median Dublin home price is $695,000. That house price requires an annual income of nearly $151,200. Household size in Dublin dropped 21% between 2010 and 2020; more than 73% of Dublin households are one- or two-person housings.

The number of households in Dublin increased between 2010 and 2020, at the same time that the total number of residents decreased slightly, a reflection of this smaller household size. Additionally, median age in Dublin increased from 44 years in 2010 to 53.8 years in 2020.

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The story is very similar in Temple. Household sizes are small and getting smaller, with 66% of Temple households consisting of one or two persons. Median house price is $451,000, out of reach for a household making less than $108,000 annually.

In both towns, the primary form of housing is a large single-unit house on a large lot. In surveys in both towns, we identified a need for both more rental housing and for smaller units, either for elders who wished to downsize or for young people just starting out their independent housing journey.

Once the housing needs assessments and code audits were complete, the consultants and the town housing committees took the information to residents at various kinds of public events.

Residents were asked, “If these are our housing issues, what do you think we should do about them?” Responses were mixed: some residents said nothing should be done, because their town was perfect as it was and they wanted nothing to change.

Others were willing to consider making changes to the codes to allow some more housing choice, such as duplexes or accessory dwelling units. ADUs are small housing units on a lot with an existing primary house. They are sometimes called “granny flats” or “in law apartments.”

This year, only Dublin had a warrant article directly driven by this work. The town voted to change the zoning code so that a homeowner could have either an attached ADU or detached ADU on an existing lot. Previously, a detached ADU had required twice the minimum lot size. This proposal passed at town voting. The Dublin Planning Board does intend to continue this work going forward.

Temple had nothing on the warrant this year that directly related to the work of the housing committee and the HOP grant consultants, but the Housing Committee is continuing its work with the hope of proposing changes to the planning board in the future.

Ivy Vann is a former state representative and former Peterborough Planning Board member, as well as a certified planner with the American Planning Association and the Congress for the New Urbanism.