Affordable Housing

by John Clark

The Housing situation comes down to two distinct basic and very closely related factors.

1. Land Use Regulations – Zoning, specifically related to allowable Density and minimum frontages/ setbacks.

2. Taxation Methods – reliance upon Property Tax as the primary source of Education funding, combined with current assessing practice.

Zoning, as we know it, is a relatively recent (50 years on average) form of population control. The most significant feature being a requirement for much larger Lot sizes, combined with lot-line setbacks which, in our “free market” style of economy, demands larger houses in order to balance the amount of land used to the expense of development.( return on investment )

Tracking the effects of this practice show quite clearly that the average house size has increased along with lot size, and that the percentage of income required for home ownership has risen proportionately.

Unfortunately incomes have not risen in the same ratio, thus the major impact has disproportionately affected the lower income strata, the first quartile by causing higher rental cost, the second quartile ( composed of the basic workforce / workforce retirees ) by increased financial pressure of home ownership.

Compounding the Zoning problem is the “other leg”. Property Tax alone on these larger homes and lands are reaching twenty-five percent of income. This level of expense, on top of a mortgage, is driving younger residents out of New Hampshire. Retired workers on Social Security without “other income” are in dire straits and often cannot afford to retain their fully paid-for homes.

Towns themselves have restrained spending. Education has not. School spending has risen at an alarming rate. Property taxes related to Schools cannot be adequately controlled at a local level.

Latest Census results, and the Report of the Northern New England Real Estate Network, released this week, confirm these trends once more.

Each of these two apparently independent factors paralyzes and polarizes any movement toward wider discussion or implementation of possible solutions.

It is my opinion that ANY discussion of the Housing Dilemma MUST include both Zoning and Taxation. Although each must be solved separately, both paradigms are equally at question. Attention to only one will result in partial resolution of the overall problem.