Is This What People Want

Coming around just as regularly as the seasons, applications for workforce housing developments have returned to Londonderry. Former assisted living or senior housing proposals are now brought forward in new form for development as “workforce” housing – supposedly geared to keeping young families in town rather than having them forced to live elsewhere to find affordable housing.

The concept of affordable housing is a great one – who wouldn’t want that? But what about the young families who’d like a home of their own, rather than an apartment in a multi-story, multi-building housing complex.

Guess the answer is tough luck.

What is being proposed and built are apartments that are expected to rent for about $1,400 per month – higher than many local mortgages. And many young families, downsizing older couples and just about anyone else may still want their own detached home and yard, rather than apartment living.

But that’s not what’s being built. Their choice, if they want to stay in Londonderry, is to move into an apartment while continuing to pay what they might for a mortgage.

Communities in New Hampshire have been told by the legislature that they need to provide workforce housing. They are not told how much – no minimum, no maximum. Towns like Derry, with its long-time surfeit of rental apartments, don’t need to worry about whether they are meeting state standards. In fact, Derry offers a good learning example, tax wise, of what a wealth of apartments can do for a town.

Should Londonderry worry? Or does it already have a supply of houses that would produce a mortgage of about $1,400 per month? And does it already have lots of apartments and other rental units?

No one seems to be answering those questions, or checking to see if people are desperately seeking multi-building apartment complexes as their residence of choice. The out-of-town builders and developers who are coming to Londonderry with variance requests for workforce housing have one thing in mind – making a profit. It’s the American way, and Londonderry officials seem eager to please.

Small developments of individual homes – the traditional cul-de-sac type of development – could satisfy workforce housing demands and be more likely to attract young teachers, firefighters and police – the original targets when workforce housing first reared its head several years ago – but they wouldn’t produce as big a profit for developers.

So perhaps we need to be honest. Workforce housing apartment complexes, granted variances upward from the Town’s ordinance for size and number of units just by asking, are a boon for out-of-town developers, and that meets their goal.

But what about the goal of people who want a home in town. Maybe those who disagree with this development trend will find their voice and go to a Town Council meeting to speak at public forum, or call up or email a Town Councilor and express their views, or send a letter and ask that it be read into the record. Maybe people will take a stand. The alternative is facing us right now.

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