High among nearly every list of pressing needs in the Granite State — and the Keene area in particular — is housing. The region simply lacks adequate housing stock to support any growth in the population, such as is necessary to fill vacant jobs and grow the economy.
Yet without that economic growth, it seems unlikely builders will be inclined to invest in providing new housing, or making older, inadequate housing more appealing and usable.
That’s why we find one of the slew of new laws signed by the governor recently interesting. Senate Bill 102, an omnibus bill on property taxation, contains two parts. One will allow municipalities to adopt a property tax exemption “for certain renewable generation and energy storage systems.”
The other part, sponsored by Keene Democrat Jay Kahn, allows municipalities to create “residential property revitalization zones,” similar to tax increment financing — or TIF — zones, to spur development.
In this case, the districts would specifically relate to small-scale residential improvements — single-family up to four units — and would give applicants a tax break for adding value. So if the city of Keene put a district in place for 10 years, and a property owner/developer following the city’s rules increased the value of a building from $200,000 to $250,000, it would net an $18,000 tax break over that decade (at last year’s Keene tax rate), Kahn said.
That’s not to say any improvement to any property would qualify. It’s up to the municipality to set the guidelines, and under the new law, it only applies to properties at least 40 years old that are four units or smaller. The idea, Kahn said, is to incentivize improvements to older, run-down housing stock.
Kahn used the example of homes on Keene’s East Side that have been converted over the years into apartments for Keene State College students. Once, the college was pushing to have more students live off campus, but more recently has had less need for that. So, such large, older homes could be improved under this law to make for more attractive neighborhoods with higher property values.
Frankly, we’re for any responsible moves that encourage affordable housing in the city, and the state. Time and again, surveys indicate workforce housing is a major impediment to drawing and retaining the type of workers local businesses need to expand. Other reports show those at the lower ends of the wage scale can’t even come close to affording rents in this area without holding multiple jobs.
For all the great things about New England and New Hampshire, there has not been the needed pace of housing creation for many decades, and now, what housing is built is almost always geared toward those with higher incomes, unless it’s subsidized.
If this law moves the needle even a little in favor of better, or more, affordable housing, we’re all for it.