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Report: Local Zoning Rules Tied To Affordable Housing Shortage In Rural N.H.

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There are some obvious reasons, and some not-so-obvious for why low income people in rural New England struggle to find affordable housing.

For starters, there is simply a lack of inventory, as developers often prefer to build larger homes where there is more potential profit.

But a new study from UNH’s Carsey School of Public Policy finds that town zoning policies often present a roadblock to low-income housing by setting minimum lot sizes in rural communities.

The report also finds that conservation efforts, which have exploded in rural areas in recent decades, further squeeze available lands.

“It is wonderful for preserving the area’s scenic quality,” says researcher Jessica Carson. “But it does restrict in terms of the number of shear acres available for development.”

The report highlights a tension between planning efforts that aim to ensure a rural region maintains its character and attracts tourists or second home owners, and how those same efforts can hurt lower-income workers who may fill jobs in the region’s service industry.

The growth of people buying second homes, in particular, presents a challenge by driving up land and property values.

“That is great for the region in a lot of ways, but it also means that they are consuming housing stock that is then no longer available for the families that work there year round,” says Carson.

The study, which was co-authored by Carsey researcher Marybeth Mattingly, is based on interviews and focus groups conducted between 2011 and 2015 in two unnamed rural New England counties. It’s part of a long-term study on economic opportunity in the region.

While the report highlights growing challenges facing low-income residents, it also points to policy changes that could correct disparities, such as changes in land-use regulations, and creative solutions that include municipalities working with vacant property owners to rent out space to identified families in need.

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