Affordable housing advocacy isn't for sissies

By Archive

Two things affordable housing advocates can count on: few permanent victories and the need to keep telling the same story year after year because the audience changes.

If you like stories with tidy endings, affordable housing advocacy isn't for you.

There are two things you can count on in this business: few permanent victories and the need to keep telling your story year after year because even though the story doesn't change, the audience does.

Because the members of the New Hampshire legislature are elected every two years, there is sizable turnover. As a result, challenges to recently passed laws are frequent, especially when they involve complicated and controversial matters of public policy. So new majorities have to be built every two years. Same fight but lots of new faces.

The running battle over RSA 674:58-61, the workforce housing statute, is a case in point. Enacted in 2008, the statute codified a 1991 state Supreme Court decision requiring every city and town to provide "reasonable and realistic opportunities" for development of workforce housing, meaning rental and owned housing that is affordable to persons working for modest wages.

The law was needed because New Hampshire has far less affordable housing than workers who need it. Much of this imbalance is the result of restrictive local land-use regulations collectively known as NIMBY (shorthand for the widespread view that housing needs to be built, just "not in my back yard"). The shortage of worker housing was costing the state an estimated 2,800 new jobs, $21 million in state tax revenue, and $121 million in personal income annually.

The NH Business and Industry Association joined affordable-housing advocates in the effort to outlaw NIMBY. After more than a decade of hard work by many people, the new law was the cause of much celebration.

The celebration was short-lived. Legislators tried (in vain) to effectively repeal the new law in 2009, and again last year. The law was almost repealed this spring when the House voted to kill it, but, thankfully, the Senate refused to go along. Opponents are already lining up to take another shot in the upcoming session.

You see what I mean by no tidy endings...

This was but one of several issues tackled by NH advocates during this spring's session. If you want to join the fight for affordable housing, please visit Housing Action NH's Web site.

By the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund's Community Housing office.