To the Editor:
I am writing to ask my Portsmouth constituents to vote to “Approve” Question 2 in the November 2nd referendum. This question asks Portsmouth citizens to authorize the town to enter into a long-term lease agreement with Church Community Housing Corp. (a non-profit) to develop the former Ann Hutchinson School property into 50+ units of affordable senior housing, and a brand-new Senior Center to replace the existing code non-compliant 95-year-old facility.
The existing Senior Center would require more than $5 million in new investment just to keep using what currently exists, a run-down and worn-out building that would meet current building code. The town would have to borrow that money under a new bond issue. There would be no new amenities, no facility upgrades beyond code compliance. Further, we would continue the current long-term lease ($1 per year) with the Senior Center, which will continue to keep this 5-acre property off the tax rolls.
Question #2 offers a cost-effective alternative to Portsmouth that will solve two critical issues our community faces. First, it will provide a larger, modern senior center that expands capacity with state-of-the-art facilities. Our seniors need this new facility and certainly deserve it. It will serve them well for decades.
Second, the Church Community Housing (CCH) proposal will address one of our compelling economic issues, the lack of affordable housing. This issue affects Portsmouth, and our entire state. I serve as Chairman of the Portsmouth Housing Authority, managing the Quaker Manor/Quaker Estates senior housing. I can tell you first-hand we have a severe shortage of senior housing in town. We have no vacancies, and a long waiting list. This situation exists everywhere in our state. The CCH proposal will add more than 50 new affordable housing units for seniors, increasing our affordable housing stock by 60%. We need this kind of progress.
So, how will this work? Passing Question #2 will allow the town to offer CCH the same long-term lease deal we gave the Senior Center for decades. CCH will raise the funds needed to build the new senior center, the new housing units, and operate the facilities over the long term. The revenue from the housing pays for construction and management. CCH has successfully implemented this business model in many communities around the state.
From the town’s perspective, our “cost” is providing CCH the land to build on. We avoid any town borrowing, we repurpose unused land, this new development goes onto the property tax rolls, make a long-term fix for our senior center, and increase our desperately needed housing stock.
This is a great opportunity to address our most serious issues in Portsmouth. I will vote to approve this property transfer, and I urge you, my fellow citizens, to do so too.
Senator, District 11
Portsmouth, Bristol, Tiverton