Planning Board Gets Annual Update on Elderly Housing

What looked to be a quick update from Town Planner Colleen Mailloux on whether Londonderry’s inventory of 55+ housing had reached a level that would trigger a restriction on new such housing turned into a wide-ranging discussion on elderly housing in Londonderry.

The town has an ordinance that prevents approval of any new 55+ housing if the percentage of such housing in town exceeds the percentage of 55+ residents. Mailloux shared that based on the latest census data available from 2016, the town had a total of 8,218 housing units in 2016, with the total (existing and proposed) age restricted units accounting for 9.2% of the current supply.

In comparison, the population 55 years and older was 6,884 or 27.9% of the total. Thus, the limitation on the number of elderly housing units is not in effect.  Interestingly, data shows that the growth of age-restricted housing outpaces the growth in the percentage of 55+ residents. From 2016 to 2017, the number of 55+ units (existing and proposed) increased from 631 to 755, an increase of 20%. At the same time, the number of 55+ residents increased by just 8%.

While the town growth ordinance defines elderly as 55+, the picture is quite different if one considers the percentage of resident aged 65 or over.  As of 2016, Londonderry’s 65+ population was 2,987, just over 12% of the total population which is much closer to the current 9.2% cap on elderly housing.

During discussion board Chairman Art Rugg suggested that the town may need to review the housing density allowed in 55+ developments.  He added that the biggest complaint he hears from residents is that the 55+ units are too expensive.  Member Chris Davies suggested that perhaps developments should only get the allowance for increased housing density if the units are deemed affordable.

Mailloux agreed that maybe simply having age-restricted is not providing the diversity in housing that the town needs.  Much of the inventory coming on the market is too expensive for residents who want to downsize and stay in Londonderry.  Member Leitha Reilly suggested that the current market seems to fit best with people moving from more expensive towns and states to live more affordably in Londonderry.

Members highlighted that it is challenging to get developers who want to build affordable elderly housing.  They pointed to the age 62+ Sanborn Crossing project as one example of success.  Others noted, however, that for this project to be feasible, low-interest federally guaranteed loans were required.  Because the site is an EPA brownfield site with hazardous waste that needs to be cleaned up, the town sold the land to the developer for $10.

Member Mary Wing Soares wondered what will happen to age restricted homes when the large baby boomer generation is replaced by fewer younger residents. If Londonderry has too many age-restricted houses and not enough people to fill them, what happens to them?

Mailloux suggested that it was time to look at the current ordinance which was established over ten years ago, and board members agreed.

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