Temporary Residence for Homeless Debated by Derry Zoning Board

By Paul Conyers

At its May 5 meeting, the Derry Zoning Board heard a case from the nonprofit Family Promises of NH. Supported by the Catholic Bishop of Manchester, the intent is to provide temporary residences for homeless families. The proposed project’s location is at 187 Hampstead Road, the site of the old Holy Cross Catholic Church. Family Promises requested an exception to the zoning ordinance on the grounds that transitional housing will have a positive impact on the community.
Gerald Prunier, a lawyer for Family Promises stated that residents “are taught how to live and provide for oneself in society, the resident stays for only one year, it is transitional housing that is needed for the community.” He further noted that the old church “is a building no longer being used for a public purpose, it allows the residents a home as they are being educated on how to live in the community.” The exterior of the building will remain unchanged, and foliage in the area will prevent any negative impact on local appearance or property values.
Chairman Lynn Perkins’ initial concern was that paperwork for the request was a lack of paperwork presented to the Zoning Board before the meeting. He warned that Family Promise could have their request delayed to the next meeting. Generally, the Board prefers to look over such an application in advance.
Marc Siragusa from the Board of Trustees at Family Promise spoke of the need for cheap housing in Derry. He said there is “a huge need in Derry, currently, there’s about 25 families in the elementary school system that are in need and would qualify for our scope at Holy Cross and nine or ten at the Pinkerton Academy who would qualify as well.” The Holy Cross project would house 16 families dormitory-style.
Family Promise also helps residents budget and work while it focuses on families, not individuals. All people taken in must go through a background check and they must have a job. More than half of families qualify for mortgages and 90% no longer need housing aid within 12 months of admission.
Board member Allan Virr had questions about how current economic conditions might impact the success rate of the project. He noted that “the mortgage rate has increased two times, and the Fed has signaled that they’re looking at another one-quarter percent increase, it’s been my observation over the years that every time you do that, you cut off the lower echelon for mortgages.” Family Promise assured the Board that residents would have some support from the non-profit after the end of the program and that a mortgage was not necessarily the end goal.
Several members spoke in support of moving forward with the project although there was some opposition. Resident Jim Foley argued that the project “is trying to change a building that’s not right for the area into another building that’s not right for the area.” His main concern was increased noise and traffic, although Family Promise assured the public that this would not be an issue. The Zoning Board tabled their consideration of the project until at least the next meeting on Wednesday, May 18.