Business Quarterly: Ivy Vann – Grants can help towns find housing solutions

By IVY VANN

For the Ledger-Transxript

Published: 04-25-2023 12:39 PM

According to analysis just released by the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority, New Hampshire is missing some 23,500 housing units.

This is not a surprise to anyone. We have all heard the stories of houses selling for startling sums, and the stories of people who cannot find housing at any price.

So what’s the answer? One possible answer is a hard look at local zoning regulations that make building housing difficult and expensive. In an effort to come to grips with this, the state has created a $5 million fund, administered by NHHFA and PlanNH, to provide small towns and hamlets with grant money to allow them to hire professional planning assistance to both take a hard look at their zoning codes and to start a conversation with residents about what kind of changes they would consider to allow more housing choice.

These grants are known as Housing Opportunity Planning grants, usually referred to as HOP grants. In the Monadnock region, Dublin, Temple and Wilton have applied for and received grants. Peterborough plans to apply for a grant in the next round of funding. The funding for the HOP program comes from federal American Recovery Plan Act.

As part of the structure for the grant program, NHHFA and PlanNH created a list of approved planning consultants that towns may hire for this work. The intention was to simplify the process of finding a qualified consultant, a process that can be lengthy and complicated for a small town.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of the HOP grant-approved planning consultants and I am working with several local towns on these projects.

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The grants are given for one or more phases. Phase one is a housing needs assessment, an analysis of existing housing and what the current zoning code would permit in terms of future housing.

Phase two is a code audit, an analysis of the current land use code as it pertains to housing, and phase three is to fund rewriting the land-use codes if the town decides that is necessary and desirable. Additionally, towns receive funding to update the chapters of their master plans that are concerned with housing.

The phases are supervised and implemented by a town subcommittee, members of which are receiving training in both housing policy and public engagement. During all of the phases, the grant process mandates a robust conversation with town residents; the expectation is that the committee will work openly with everyone to come to a consensus.

The idea is that the professionals do the work that requires professional expertise and will also assist the town committee in organizing public engagement but that the committee members, who know their towns better than anyone, make sure that all residents get a chance to be part of the conversation.

No one expects this to be a speedy process. The conversation about needs and possible solutions for each town will require honest engagement on everyone’s part. If your town housing committee reaches out to you please share your thoughts. If they don’t reach out to you, please reach out to them!

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

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