Officials and residents were hoping the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns would shed some light on whether communities are obligated to offer a tax break to developers of affordable housing projects.
But recently, the director of the league, Daniel L. Beardsley, Jr., sent a letter stating that the organization would not discuss the issue or seek a judge’s opinion.
“The Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns will not be rendering a ‘second opinion’ to the Town of Barrington on the issues…” stated the letter.
Years ago when the nonprofit developer East Bay Community Development Corporation was building Sweetbriar — an affordable housing project in West Barrington — a deal was struck that allowed EBCDC to pay just 8 percent of the rents collected annually at the development in lieu of the full property taxes.
That resulted in significant savings for the developer and a loss in tax revenue for the town.
Barrington resident Gary Morse challenged the town recently, as EBCDC officials begin early permitting work on Palmer Pointe — an affordable housing project set for 10 acres off Sowams Road.
Mr. Morse has said there is no law or mandate requiring towns offer a tax subsidy to developers of affordable housing.
He said it is up to the developers to make sure that they can afford to building these projects — “It is not the job of the residents, nor is it the jurisdiction of the town council, to make sure affordable housing is (financially) feasible. That’s the job of the developer,” he said during a prior interview.
Some town officials have countered, saying that if they don’t extend the tax break to the developer, it could be seen as a move to block affordable housing, which would, in turn, give more power to the developer to build something even less palatable in town.
Barrington Town Council President June Speakman said she was frustrated by the league’s decision. She added that the affordable housing law is creating numerous problems for some Rhode Island communities.
“This law is not working well for municipalities,” Ms. Speakman said. “With this (tax break question) there is no clarity. Every agency you ask has a different answer.
“I think the state needs to address it… this is an unfunded mandate.”
Ms. Speakman said the state should be offering municipalities impact aid to help balance the costs associated with adding affordable housing it town.