What is Workforce Housing?

People “in the workforce” – teachers, nurses, firefighters, police – have good and important jobs. They are an asset to the town where they live and work. The NH legislature recognizes their value and requires that towns with zoning “provide reasonable and realistic opportunities” to develop workforce housing.

Workforce Housing is not “cheap” or undesirable housing. Under the law, home prices must be affordable for a family of four earning 100% of the county’s median income, or for renters earning 60% of the median. In Grafton County, those caps are $292,000 for homes, or a rent of $1,210 per month.

Doesn’t Lyme already meet the Workforce Housing law?

No. Our town’s Regional Planning Commission (UVLSRPC) reports that the region has a shortage of between 3,000 and 5,000 housing units just to serve its current needs for workers, let alone any future growth in demand. By law, Lyme must “accommodate its fair share of the current and reasonably foreseeable regional need for such housing.” Based on its fraction of the regional population (1.9%), we would need to add 55 to 90 units of housing immediately.

A couple years ago, a Planning Board study concluded that about a quarter of the roughly 750 homes in town fall under the Workforce Housing price threshold. But that report fails to recognize that hardly any of those units are actually available – vacancy rates throughout Lyme and the Upper Valley are very low, in the 1-2% range. Because of the lack of homes in that price range, Lyme does not meet its fair share of housing, as required by state law (RSA 674:59).

Furthermore, that law goes on to require that an ordinance “provide reasonable and realistic opportunities for the development of workforce housing, including rental multi-family housing” and “opportunities to develop economically viable workforce housing.”

Land in Lyme is expensive: a buildable lot costs $100,000 or more. And Lyme’s ordinance requires single-family homes everywhere except a small portion of town. These two facts make it difficult to build homes for less than the workforce housing caps.

How could Lyme solve this?

A good way to decrease the cost of housing is to permit multiple homes, and thus multiple families, to share the cost of the land and the improvements. A change like this has notable advantages:

  • It decreases the housing costs by splitting the up-front costs between the units.
  • It helps Senior Housing to be economically feasible, since those living arrangements call for homes clustered together with shared amenities and support services.
  • It decreases the risk (and and potential expense) to the Town for defending against a Workforce Housing lawsuit

Permitting multiple smaller, affordable units on a single lot is a start toward making Workforce Housing feasible.

Feel free to share this post on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or email. Any opinions expressed here are solely my own, and not those of any public body, such as the Lyme Planning Board, Budget Committee, or Trustees of the Trust Funds where I volunteer. I would be very interested to hear your thoughts – you can reach me at richb.lyme@gmail.com.

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