Barrington council seeks clarity on affordable housing tax question
The Barrington Town Council is seeking a second opinion on whether municipalities are required to offer a tax break to non-profit developers of affordable housing projects.
Westwood Lane resident Gary Morse recently brought the issue to the surface, questioning the appropriateness and legality of a tax abatement a prior council offered the East Bay Community Development Corporation when it built Sweetbriar in West Barrington.
At its July 15 meeting, the town council decided to pursue an opinion of someone other than RI Housing and town solicitor Michael Ursillo. The question has been forwarded to the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns.
“Are towns required to give the 8 percent or not? That’s the question,” said council president June Speakman.
Currently, the town and EBCDC have agreed to a deal where the developer is only required to pay property taxes equaling 8 percent of the rents collected at Sweetbriar annually. The deal acts as a significant subsidy for the developer and represents the loss of tens of thousands of dollars in property taxes each year for the town.
Mr. Morse believes that the town is not required to offer the tax break, while Ms. Speakman and some other council members are concerned that not extending the break to EBCDC for future projects (Palmer Pointe) will be viewed as an obstacle to affordable housing and could come back to haunt the town.
“Knowing how this particular developer has worked in the past, if we say no, they will take us to court,” said councilor Kate Weymouth in a previous interview. “If we say categorically no, and they cannot make this work (financially without the abatement), we are sending a message to the state that we are not allowing for further affordable housing.”
Ms. Speakman said the town would likely face a $5,000 or $10,000 cost if it was to request a declaratory judgment from the courts, adding that in her view “nobody should have to pay money for this.” Instead, the council opted to send the issue to the Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns.
Ms. Speakman said this is an appropriate topic for that group to examine. She added that Barrington Town Manager Peter DeAngelis sits on the league’s board and agreed to add the item to an upcoming meeting agenda.