Letter: Barrington can’t afford tax breaks to housing projects

To the editor:

Since 2009, Barrington’s Sweetbriar affordable housing development has been provided a property tax subsidy that equates to a per unit property tax bill of approximately 1/4 what an affordable homeowner must pay at the Walker Farm affordable development, and about 1/6 of what those living in a modest $250,000 home would pay.

Some members of the Barrington Town Council have argued that since Barrington did not prevail on the old Sweetbriar lawsuit, the town must accommodate affordable developers, and in particular, the East Bay Community Development Corporation (EBCDC). This “appeasement” argument was stated during the July 30, 2012 council meeting, and again at last week’s July 1 council meeting.

It might be argued that in the case of the Sweetbriar lawsuit, the town had not prepared itself properly and thus came up short on their attempt to defend the narrow issues of the Sweetbriar lawsuit. Now, applicable law, including recent US Supreme Court decisions, effectively nullify the appeasement argument for affordable developers.

There is little evidence that Barrington’s Sweetbriar and Walker Farm affordable developments serve the interests of Barrington residents. Both projects are arguably failures when measured on a “serving local needs” basis. Part of that failure stems from the use of contrived statistics that attempt to validate a local need that doesn’t exist. The fact is, most residents who are now at Sweetbriar and Walker Farm arrived from other towns, states, countries.

Legitimate threshold questions concerning true local needs, and the limits on the town council’s ability to abate property taxes, are being reviewed after project completions, not before — where these threshold questions properly belong. 

Barrington town officials have justified aggressive affordable housing policies by creating a false premise that RI General Laws mandate a 10 percent affordable housing production level, and that the town can subsidize such housing using property taxes. But that is not true. There is no 10 percent affordable housing mandate.

RI Housing has stood by silent allowing rhetoric to control the conversation and debate. The Barrington government is now trying to figure out how to get the Palmer Pointe project approved, subsidized and built now that they’ve been caught at the front end with everyone watching. It’s a tricky maneuver since EBCDC says that Palmer Pointe cannot make it without property tax subsidies.

So what now happens to those subsidies to Sweetbriar? What residents want are answers as to whether the Barrington Town Council can legally vote to subsidize property taxes for affordable developers, as the council is now doing for Sweetbriar, and, whether the “production and resettlement” model inherent in RI Housing’s regulations, is constitutional.

Does forced production of housing that is not necessary to serve local needs create a burden sufficient to call into question the constitutionality of the law, and its regulations?

Residents would appreciate a legal review on these matters from a law firm that is capable of providing a truly objective legal analysis.

Issues on sewers and sidewalks should not be relevant right now as they do not address the real threshold questions concerning affordable housing.

Gary Morse

Barrington

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