2019 Homeownership Conference – NHHFA

On March 19, 2019, the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority held its 2019 Homeownership Conference. Agenda is at: https://www.nhhfa.org/assets/pdf/HO_Conf_3-19_Agenda.pdf

How can we get more homes built? How can we keep pace with the demand?

Dean Christon – Executive Director of NHHFA pointed to several initiatives:

St. Anselms College Center for Ethics in Business & Governance

  • Need more funding
  • Need a state-wide housing board
  • Need a legislative study on housing density

There are three interesting bills in the legislature and their sponsors:
SB 306 – Housing Appeals Board – Giuda
SB 15 – Affordable Housing Fund – Bradley
SB 43 – Density Study – Fuller-Clark

Finally, he introduced the NHHFA 2019 Housing Market Report  Read it at https://www.nhhfa.org/assets/pdf/NHHFA_HMR_3-19_final.pdf

Improving Housing Affordability

Elliot Eisenberg (the “Bowtie Economist”, Econ70.com) gave an entertaining and insightful review of housing issues. His major points:

  • The yield curve has inverted. This is a symptom of a non-zero chance of recession but at least 12 months out
  • There is a slowing economy, both in the US and the world. This is leading to slow growth
  • Regulatory costs add about $20,000 to $30,000 to the typical home. Mostly these are costs of complying with zoning
  • There are labor supply problems – builders cannot attract qualified builders, driving up labor costs
  • Land costs are high, making it more expensive to build
  • Builders have stopped building homes below $250,000
  • Rent growth has slowed recently
  • Municipalities should practice dynamic zoning. We regularly rezone commercial and industrial properties, but rarely do we allow changes to the density of residential districts
  • We must get housing density up, to decrease the cost of homes

He gave a similar presentation to the Greater Houston Builders Association Conference two weeks prior. That video is at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jv1do15Yx_Q

New Hampshire’s Housing Needs

Russ Thibault, Applied Economic Research, gave a talk about the New Hampshire housing needs. High demand for rental housing – “If the paint is dry, it’s occupied.” There is a shortage of 15,000 to 20,000 units in NH, with a demand for about 3,500 new units per year.

However, new construction is lagging because of high prices for construction materials (especially lumber), high labor costs (2.5% unemployment makes it hard to find qualified carpenters), and high land prices mean that existing housing is a relative bargain, driving up those prices.

He also gave a lesson in the history of zoning: In the 1980s, there was a sense of unease that the entire state would become overrun because of development pressure from Massachusetts. Ordinances were put in place to create a regulatory framework to prevent towns (especially in the southern part of NH) from being overwhelmed. These laws succeeded, but are now too restrictive and keep towns and municipalities from developing reasonable housing alternatives.

Engaging Stakeholders to Find Solutions

A panel discussion with the following people:

Builder: KEVIN LACASSE, New England Family Housing
Realtor: MATT MERCIER, Jill & Co. Realty Group
Architect/Engineer: TIM NICHOLS, AECm
Banker:PETER RAYNO, Enterprise Bank
Local Government: STEPHEN BUCKLEY, NHMunicipal Association
Moderator: BEN FROST, New Hampshire Housing

I took a few notes:

  • Mixed use development is good: Single family or rental above office or retail on the first floor.
  • Modular/pre-engineered construction helps improve labor cost/schedule/quality, with less waste, environmental impact, and bigger (annual) energy savings.
  • Riggins Rules – a good framework for being an effective land use board.

Summary of the Day’s Discussion

Ignatius Maclellan, Managing Director, Homeownership Division of NHHFA offered these thoughts:

  • Fully fund the State of NH Sewer Expansion work.
  • There are planning grants that can mitigate developer risk
  • To get market-price homes, streamline approval processes

Feel free to share this post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or email by clicking one of the icons below. Any opinions expressed here are solely my own, and not those of any public bodies, such as the Lyme Planning Board or the Lyme Community Development Committee, where I am/have been a member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

No on Lyme’s Article #2

Background: In March 2019, the Planning Board proposed an amendment to the Lyme Zoning Ordinance to modify the current Lot Size Averaging provision. I sent the following notes to the Lyme Listserv to ask residents not to vote for this change.

Update: At Town Meeting, Article 2 (the Lot Size Averaging amendment) failed by a vote of 282 votes against, and 198 votes for it.

To the Lyme Listserv,

I am writing because a couple people asked my opinion of the Lot Size Averaging (LSA) amendment (Article #2) on Tuesday’s warrant.

Lot Size Averaging (LSA) could provide a useful tool but as amended, it dramatically decreases what is allowed in comparison with what an owner could build in a conventional subdivision. The details make for a long message, but in sum it permits much less in the way of house (about 50% less) and outbuildings (up to 80% less).

Furthermore, the “procedural simplicity” claimed for the new language comes by removing the right of an applicant to appeal to the zoning board for relief from the new restrictions.

Given these new constraints on what can be built, this proposed LSA amendment doesn’t provide value to Lyme, or to a resident who would consider using it.

That said, smaller, more dense (and less expensive) housing can help those who want to downsize and stay in town. It also helps the many people who serve the residents of Lyme in our schools, homes, restaurants, and who provide services such as hairdressers, firefighters, nurses, and electricians. They should be able to live in Lyme, too.

If you think that alternatives should be allowed in Lyme, please vote No on Article #2 on the paper ballot this Tuesday, and encourage our dedicated volunteer planners to return to the drawing board and consider other strategies for housing.

Rich Brown

In a followup email, Mary Callahan wrote:

Can anyone give me more information on this article? I’ve read the article on the town report but I’m wondering about the background. How does this differ with what’s in place now and what is the need that the board sought to address with this amendment? Maybe someone can point me to minutes on the town site, I haven’t been able to find them.

Thanks for your curiosity. As I noted in my previous message, Lyme has a complicated ordinance regarding how people can build on their land. Since our application for subdivision triggered this amendment, let me use our property to illustrate how the new language constrains the ability to build homes.

To summarize, our 96-acre parcel at the Loch Lyme Lodge yields only four buildable lots under the both the current and new language. However, the new language would limit our building footprint by more than 50%, the lot coverage by 80%, and the gross floor area by two thirds from what could currently be allowed on the parcel.

The Details

The Lyme Ordinance promotes single-family homes on large lots. A “buildable lot” must have at least three acres remaining after subtracting conservation overlays – wetlands and buffers, agricultural soil, steep slopes. Parent parcels frequently need to be twice or three times as large (six to ten or more acres) to meet that minimum lot size.

Under Current Ordinance:

Pinnacle Project owns a 96 acre parcel in the Rural district at the Loch Lyme Lodge that could be used for residential purposes. After subtracting conservation overlays and applying the three/five acre rules, the 96 acre parcel ends up with only four “buildable lots” of 3.0, 5.6, 6.8, and 8.6 acres, respectively. These lot sizes determine the Building Footprint, Lot Coverage, and Gross Floor Area for the homes.

Building Footprint – In a conventional subdivision of our land, the current ordinance would permit home footprints that are 2% of the lot size, or 2,622, 4,855, 5,949, and 7,000 square feet for a total of 20,426 sf.

Maximum Lot Coverage limits the total square footage of the home, garage, barn, workshop, greenhouses, sheds, outbuildings, etc. In a conventional four-lot subdivision the allowance is a generous 12% of the lot size, capped at 26,000 sf. Three of our lots would allow 26,000sf, the fourth would be 15,734 sf of lot coverage, for a total of 93,734sf.

Gross Floor Area in the residential district is capped at 14,000 sf. In practice, the height limitations mean that the homes likely would have two stories, and our buildings would max out at 5,244, 9,710, 11,898, and 14,000 sf, a total of 40,852sf.

I acknowledge that these would be large homes, but if someone wanted to build them, they would be permitted automatically (subject to suitable septic, driveway, etc. plans) under the current ordinance. I also note that the setback requirements and other dimensional controls would require that the homes be spread out across the property with no protection of open space.

Using the New Lot Size Averaging language:

If an applicant instead wanted to avoid breaking up the open space on a parcel and cluster the homes, the new ordinance applies severe constraints on these homes. Using the same lot sizes for our property:

Building Footprint: limited to 2,500sf per home. Four homes would total 10,000sf, or less than 50% of what is currently allowed.

Maximum Lot Coverage: limited to 4,500sf. Four homes would total 18,000sf, or only 20% of what would be allowed.

Gross Floor Area: limited to 3,000sf. Four homes would total 12,000sf, or less than a a third of what would be allowed currently.

Two More Points:

The current ordinance also limits building sizes for lot size averaging, but includes an option to go to the Zoning Board to request for relief to those constraints. The new language explicitly removes this option.

Finally, the building limits seem arbitrary. During both the drafting hearings and the public hearings, the board set the footprint and gross floor area sizes by their feelings that they were “reasonably sized” and “generous” homes according to their “perception of what’s reasonable.”

Summary: The proposed language is a disincentive for the use of Lot Size Averaging. In the only recent case, this new language would limit the footprint by more than 50%, the lot coverage by 80%, and the gross floor area by two thirds over what could currently be allowed.

This is not a useful change, and only continues the Ordinance’s promotion of single family homes on large lots.

If you agree, please vote No on Article #2 and encourage our dedicated volunteer planners to consider other strategies for housing.

Feel free to share this post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or email by clicking one of the icons below. Any opinions expressed here are solely my own, and not those of any public bodies, such as the Lyme Planning Board or the Lyme Community Development Committee, where I am/have been a member. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.