PORTSMOUTH – The Portsmouth City Council voted 5-1 on Monday to reject housing legislation that would limit the amount of unrelated persons living in a single residence to just three individuals.
The legislation, brought forth by newly elected 3rd Ward Councilman Andy Cole, was meant to limit new recovery housing from popping up around Portsmouth.
“My wish is to create an ordinance that would reduce the amount of unrelated adults in a single family home to three,” explained Cole. “I believe this will be good in tackling our issues and address some of the neighborhood problems we are dealing with.”
Recovery and transitional housing has been a hot button topic for months – not just in Portsmouth – but across the country. Residents have criticized ‘bad actors’ who buy homes in residential neighborhoods, refurbish them with minimum investment, and then fail to properly oversee tenants.
However, the City is currently contracting with an outside agency to change zoning laws in Portsmouth. Solicitor John Haas suggested any housing legislation should wait until those changes are complete.
“We should have a zoning and housing code that meshes and makes sense,” said Haas.
The five other members of council spoke out against the legislation for other reasons.
“We need to do something, but I’m not sure this is the direction we need to go,” said newly elected 5th Ward Councilman Joey Sandlin. “There are a number of scenarios where you have persons living in a home that are unrelated. As a landlord, how far would I have to go to investigate their blood relation?”
“This would put undue burden on a landlord to work through…I’m not sure this is effective or enforceable.”
Others commented that this would create a burden on Shawnee State University students, who regularly share housing to cut monthly costs.
“With the way it’s worded, it puts an unfair burden on students. And SSU is a big part of our community,” said 6th Ward Councilman Dennis Packard.
“All of us on council have made it a priority to address transitional housing and drug treatment facilities so that everyone can co-exist,” said 2nd Ward Councilwoman Charlotte Gordon. “However, the student population is vital to this town. They bring business. They bring hope…these are people we want to stay here. SSU attracts lots of first generation college students and the ability to share living facilities is important.”
Mayor Sean Dunne and 4th Ward Councilwoman Lyvette Mosley were opposed due to a lack of affordable housing options in the City.
“There are people living on a fixed income,” said Councilwoman Gordon. “They cannot afford high rent.”
“Addressing this problem like this would produce more problems,” said Dunne. “Portsmouth is lacking affordable housing of a good quality. What we want to do is open more options for students, graduates, and anyone who needs affordable housing…I don’t care if its players from the semi-pro football team, college students, gay and lesbian couples, or random people that met online – this is none of our business as a City.”
“How people are related to or connected to one another simply isn’t our business.”
City Solicitor John Haas stated that the city’s new zoning legislation should be completed within the next two months. He encouraged council to take a look at other alternatives to alleviate the issue before that time.
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