Saint Anselm Poll Shows Support for More Housing, Rezoning

A new poll shows nearly a majority of Granite State voters support more affordable housing being built near them.

With home prices at record highs and rents soaring as well, a survey of 520 registered voters done on May 19 and May 20 by the Center for Ethics in Society at Saint Anselm College showed that 69 percent of New Hampshire voters said “my community needs more affordable housing to be built,” a 9 percent jump over last year, when Saint Anselm conducted its last housing poll.

More remarkably, though, the poll shows 50 percent of voters want more affordable housing in their “neighborhood,” while 43 percent opposed the idea. In its announcement of the poll, Saint Anselm described the difference between support for more housing in one’s “community” and one’s “neighborhood” as significant and a sign that residents may be more likely to support developments near their homes.

“These survey results suggest that as more New Hampshire residents are affected by the housing crisis, we’re seeing a shift in attitudes as local leaders and citizens around the state gain an understanding of how their zoning ordinances impact their communities,” Rob Dapice, executive director/CEO of New Hampshire Housing, said in a statement released with the poll results. “This increased awareness of how the lack of affordable homes and rental units is hurting our communities and the state’s economy is encouraging in that it will help support and drive the search for solutions at the local and state level.”

The poll also revealed that majorities of New Hampshire voters back two ideas that have made the rounds among the state’s housing experts and legislators in Concord. A narrow majority want to see zoning reform take place to allow more housing, with 52 percent in favor and 40 percent against. A much larger share – 70 percent – want to see a “hard limit” set on how long local planning and zoning boards can take to review permits to build housing.

But a more ambitious idea that’s been gaining steam in some corners known as “missing middle” housing clearly had much more mixed support. Only 38 percent of voters surveyed in the poll endorsed the idea of allowing property owners to build up to four homes on any residentially zoned lot served by municipal water and sewer. Thirty-five percent opposed the idea.

Still, other ideas to boost housing production commanded strong support.

Over half – 53 percent – of voters opposed the state “doing more to prevent housing development and keep the state the way it is.”

And by a 61 percent to 37 percent margin, the state’s voters oppose the idea that multifamily housing should only be built in cities, not in suburbs and rural areas. Because the year-over-year change in the split between the two sides of the issue was within the poll’s 4.3 percent, Saint Anselm researchers said they were unable to tell if voters attitudes had changed.

“Economists have found that one of the biggest causes of low inventory of homes and high prices and rents is zoning,” Jason Sorens, director of research and education at the Center for Ethics and principal investigator on the survey, said in a statement. “New Hampshire has some of the strictest zoning laws in the country, and voters are starting to change their minds about whether all those restrictions are such a good idea.”

Other results collected by Sorens and his researchers found that young people under 35 and retirees are generally the most supportive of building more homes and changing state and local laws to allow that to happen. And, non-homeowners are more likely than homeowners to endorse building affordable and multifamily housing. It also showed that while conservatives are less likely to endorse the concept of affordable housing, they are more likely than liberals to endorse having the state set a hard limit on municipal permit review timelines.