CONCORD, NH – It might sound like a type of movie theater, and maybe it is somewhere out there, but in New Hampshire a “quadplex” is also a concept that could make a major impact on the state’s critical housing shortage.
During a hearing last week of the New Hampshire House of Representatives Committee on Municipal and County Government, testimony was given on HB 44. If it becomes law, the proposed piece of legislation would allow four residential dwelling units by right anywhere that is zoned for single-family homes and has municipal water and sewer services.
Under the language in the bill, those four dwelling units can come in the form of a “double-duplex,” a single four-unit building, or four separate buildings. Any other land use requirements put in place by a community unit on those lots would not change due to the bill.
Prime sponsor Rebecca McWilliams (D-Concord) said that the single-family dwelling has become the default form of housing and over-regulation in changing that default in situations where additional units can be placed on a lot is one of the key reasons behind a lack of housing in New Hampshire.
She added that only 37 percent of the municipalities in the state and less than a third of the state’s land area would be subject to the proposed law, with none of that land coming in rural areas.
Joseph Guthrie (R-Hampstead) liked the idea, but expressed concern over unexpected consequences that may come from requiring a one-size-fits-all solution for the entire state. McWilliams responded that state representatives are elected to make laws for the entire state and are required to act on behalf of the entire state when needed, such as now, given the state’s severe lack of housing.
Tim Cahill (R-Raymond) expressed concern over the impact this might have in situations such as a recent fire in his town that occurred on a lot where the fire department did not have enough water pressure available for their equipment to extinguish the fire easily. McWilliams responded here that the additional units would provide more revenue to the town which could then be used to address infrastructure concerns like these.
McWilliams said that developers cannot get insurance on buildings that have a lack of water pressure, adding an incentive for them to help prevent future instances of that situation reoccurring if bills like this helping developers are passed into law.
Cahill also expressed concern over drawing families with children into communities and potentially impacting local school budgets. McWilliams said the tax bill for lots with multiple units could vary depending on ownership models, but that the number of students across the state is going down due to the lack of housing. She added that those families need to go somewhere, and this bill is one method to correct the market.
Other testimony on the bill was generally positive. Co-sponsor Josh Yokela (R-Fremont) felt the bill would help communities by reducing regulation. Chris Norwood of the New Hampshire Association of Realtors felt the added flexibility would help homeowners looking to modify their property. Exeter Economic Development Director Darren Windham said this bill would help create more workforce housing, something he says nearby communities rely on Exeter to provide.
And Manchester Planning Board Chair Bryce Kaw-uh touched on all three of those points.
“I fully recognize and appreciate that government regulation can be important, especially when it addresses matters of public health or safety, such as preventing an industrial manufacturing facility from being built right next to an established neighborhood. But that doesn’t apply here. Using your own residentially zoned property in a more flexible way hurts nobody and can actually benefit society by providing more housing. Yet so many cities and towns are actively stopping people from doing that,” Kaw-uh said. “House Bill 44, on the other hand, doesn’t make anybody do anything. In fact, this bill expands freedom in our great state by allowing more people to do more with their own private property. If any members of this Committee would like to stand up in the future and claim that you fight for freedom, that you defend private property rights, that you support the free market, that you want to reduce government regulation, that you believe in Live Free or Die. If any of that applies to you, then respectfully, you should support this legislation. Because that is exactly what House Bill 44 does.”
Other individuals also spoke in favor of the bill, with the bulk of online testimony also in support of the bill.
The only opposition to the bill came from Natch Grayes of the New Hampshire Municipal Association and Durham Town Planner Michael Bayrent.
Grayes voiced concern over the impact of local control, a key principle of the New Hampshire Municipal Association’s guiding purpose. Bayrent felt that new construction in New Hampshire has been built without character and building too much all at once would encourage developers to build unappealing buildings that could impact communities. Bayrent instead recommended model ordinances that smaller towns without planners could adopt aimed at meeting the same purpose of the bill while also allowing local modifications.