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May 03. 2013 12:40AM

Graying of Londonderry a challenge for housing

LONDONDERRY - With 22 percent of Londonderry's population aged 55 or older, local planning officials are taking a serious look at the town's housing needs.

During Wednesday night's Planning Board meeting, Town Planner Cynthia May said the town's population has grown increasingly older in recent years.

According to the 2010 census, 22 percent of the town's 24,129 residents are considered senior citizens.

Right now, Londonderry has 478 existing or proposed senior housing units, representing about 5½ percent of the town's housing capacity.

"A lot of young people aren't staying in town," May said. "People in their 20s and 30s are moving away; they're looking for better opportunities for jobs and housing."

Adopted in spring of 1997, the town of Londonderry's elder housing ordinance defines a "standard dwelling unit" as having two bedrooms, with occupancy not to exceed two persons per unit.

The town ordinance also states that developments set aside for elder housing may contain no more than six such units per acre.

At the time the ordinance was written, Londonderry's population of citizens aged 55 or older represented 13 percent of the overall population, according to May.

"According to the ordinance, we need to match that need," May told the board. "I think we have a way to go."

Several new elderly housing projects are currently in the planning phase, including an 18-unit expansion of the Whittemore Estates condo community and the proposed 95-unit Hickory Woods at Nashua Road.

A couple of board members expressed concern over the ordinance's implications.

Mary Wing Soares said she'd have a hard time "restricting 22 percent of the town's housing."

Soares said it could prove a difficult situation for the town when homes built specifically for elderly residents outlive their owners, creating a whole new set of concerns when younger residents move in.

"We'd have to change restrictions on these homes because we want young people to come to our town. Then we don't have enough school space," Soares said. "So will we end up with an elderly community or a more balanced community?"

Soares said that an elderly housing complex in New Bedford, Mass., faced similar challenges when many owners purchased units when they were in their 50s and found they were no longer able to afford their rents or mortgages 20 years later after the affordable pricing statute expired.

"Twenty years goes by in a heartbeat. That's a concern," Soares said.

May suggested the board should "maybe take another look at the ordinance, at the needs, every six months."

Board members agreed the topic bears further consideration, with plans to explore the issue further at upcoming meetings.

aguilmet@newstote.com


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