NIMBYism and misguided zoning: Despite need and demand, roadblocks remain

Lloyd’s Hills Apartments, a 28-unit project in Bethlehem, built by Affordable Housing Education and Development. Courtesy photo.

Story Produced by Business NH Magazine, a Member of

While there is overwhelming support for affordable housing and rapid permitting of proposed housing developments, according to a statewide poll conducted by the Saint Anselm College Center for Ethics in Society, many communities are still putting up roadblocks to such development.

The study, released in January, shows NIMBYism—the Not In My Back Yard objection to specific projects—while still persistent is actually less of an impediment. Instead, the main barrier to affordable housing is voters who are reluctant to roll back planning and zoning regulations that are responsible for constraining the construction of new homes.

The survey conducted in spring 2020 shows that 63% of NH voters support more affordable housing even in their own communities and want to “limit the legal games that some municipalities might play to discourage development.” However, many voters do not seem to realize that tight zoning regulations and affordable housing are inconsistent goals in NH, the report states.

While NIMBYism is less of an impediment, it is still a roadblock that developers must overcome. There are still naysayers who oppose projects. What complicates matters is they are not on the same page about what they do and don’t want in their backyard. “Homeowners prefer single-family homes. Non-homeowners prefer developments that are new builds that come with either city-provided or developer-provided infrastructure, that are not age-restricted, and that include both low-income units and luxury units,” the report states.

The report, presented at the Housing We Need forum in December 2020, goes on to state homeowners, in general, don’t want apartments, condos, or mixed-use developments—all essential to a healthy housing market with affordable workforce options—and they want smaller developments.

“Non-homeowners can also be NIMBYs, but in a different way. They don’t like teardowns, perhaps because they are worried about gentrification, and they want new infrastructure. But in other ways, non-homeowners are more YIMBY [Yes In My Back Yard] in their views. They want mixed-income developments, and they strongly dislike age restrictions,” according to the study.

Where there is agreement brings a glimmer of hope to affordable housing advocates. Both homeowners and non-homeowners dislike the trend toward age-restricted developments—the 55-plus communities that have proliferated across the state—which suggests that “New Hampshire municipalities are often getting the politics of planning and zoning wrong,” the report states. “They assume voters worry about ‘kids in schools’ and prefer seniors-only housing, but the opposite is true. It is possible that city…

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