Housing or Profit?

Coming up with an ordinance for multi-unit workforce housing was one of the more contentious and time consuming exercises in Londonderry in recent years. How many units per building, how many buildings overall, how many workforce vs. non-workforce units – you name it and it brought out the crowds, the hot tempers and the slow, deliberate road to compromise.
When the ordinance was approved, most people probably thought that was the end.
Far from it.
Earlier this month, the Zoning Board of Adjustment granted variances on three major portions of the ordinance – units per building, units built per year, and workforce vs. non-workforce percentages.
And the crux of the developer’s argument? Return on investment and the amount of money to be made as profit.
Now those are two things any developer would be expected to consider, or they would be in the wrong business. But the question begging an answer is why a developer would select a property where, in order to make a suitable profit, variances must be obtained that strike at the heart of the ordinance.
If that’s the way things are going to go – it’s OK to grant a variance if a developer needs it to make a desired profit – why did the town go through a seemingly endless number of meetings to come up with regulations everyone thought they could live with, only to grant variances the first time a workforce housing development was proposed?
This makes for good precedent. If a developer’s chosen parcel won’t accommodate the workforce ordinance in such a way as to give the developer the amount of return on investment desired, the developer can just get a variance.
Will the variance benefit the neighborhood or the tenants? Does that matter? Not so long as the developers can make the amount of money they want.
Now every developer who wants to do a similar project can get the unit number bumped up by citing the Perkins Road project.
That’s one way to do business, but we wonder how that really benefits the people the workforce housing concept was developed for in the first place. We didn’t hear much about how the requested variances would make the development a nicer place to live or would accommodate more people in need of housing. Indeed, thanks to one of the variances, the development will house fewer workforce families and more non-workforce residents, who have plenty of places to move to already.
Or perhaps that was never the heart of the matter – maybe the profit to be made on the project has always been the real bottom line.

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