Letter: No room in the manger in Barrington


To the editor:

“And laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7 )

I am sure that if Mary and Joseph came to Barrington, they would have no trouble finding suitable accommodations. Churches would open their doors wide, even vie for the opportunity to host the holy couple.  Individual households would compete to house the pregnant virgin and her carpenter husband. Mary and Joseph would not be relegated to a cot in the basement but people of faith would probably give up their master bedroom and bath for a few evenings. They might even throw in an offer of a free breakfast or two.

But when it comes to making room for modest income people by way of affordable housing, the picture is not as clear. Even before Sweetbriar was established in West Barrington several years ago, there has been a seemingly endless protest about providing housing for these families.

The reasons vary. They include lowered property values, school crowding, environmental degradation, public safety concerns, congestion, unfair taxation, ill designed legislation and rip-offs to greedy developers.  More recently the controversy has revolved around whether the supposed 10% is a mandate or a goal and whether this percentage is excessive. Not a week goes by without an objection to affordable housing in this affluent community.

And where have the churches been in this heated discussion?  The silent has been overwhelming. Those congregations who would gladly welcome Mary and Joseph apparently feel that affordable housing is an entirely different story, and perhaps it is.  Or maybe it isn’t. At the same time, the voices of opposition have made it quite clear that NIMBY applies: not in my back yard.

In fairness to the protesters, they may have a point. After digging through all the legal, financial, environmental and other concerns, they may have a case for opposing particular efforts to build these housing units in Barrington.  However, can we begin the discussion by agreeing that as an affluent community we can do more to help those individuals who are looking for a place to live and don’t have the means to rent or buy on the traditional real estate market.

Sure, not everyone in Barrington is affluent; we have struggling families like everywhere else. But as a town we have an abundance of resources. Can’t we share a bit more with families who are trying to put a roof over their heads?

Do the rules and regulations need to be changed in order that fairness prevails?  Perhaps, but as that discussion continues can we not agree at the outset that finding room for Mary and Joseph’s children is a commendable  goal for this community that has been richly endowed?  The devil may be in the details, but can we start the conversation with some high and virtuous principles and find a way to help people find a home?

William J. Oehlkers



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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.