Editorial: New affordable housing project does not warrant a celebration

Posted 9/11/19

There were smiles all around last Friday morning when a large group celebrated a ribbon-cutting for Barrington’s latest affordable-housing debacle.

The East Bay Community Development …

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Editorial: New affordable housing project does not warrant a celebration

Posted

There were smiles all around last Friday morning when a large group celebrated a ribbon-cutting for Barrington’s latest affordable-housing debacle.

The East Bay Community Development Corporation put out the welcome mat, and a few hundred boxed lunches from Panera, to greet their guests from Barrington town government, Rhode Island Housing, Red Stone Equity Partners (the private financiers), U.S. Rep. David Cicilline and the media. Standing amid what remains a construction zone, but will soon be 46 affordable apartments on the water side of Sowams Road, they gave speeches, congratulated each other and handed out awards.

Forgive the rest of Barrington if it does not share the good feelings.

Without the slightest reflection on the people who will ultimately live at Palmer Pointe, some or all of whom may become contributing members of this community, the entire development is an affront to the taxpayers of Barrington.

The East Bay CDC gets handsome tax breaks for its affordable housing complex. The Bristol-based organization pays just 8 percent of its gross rental income, instead of a full property tax bill.

It’s the same deal the town gave the nonprofit corporation for its Sweetbriar development off Washington Road. If Sweetbriar were taxed like most other properties in Barrington, its tax bill would be more than $100,000 annually. But instead, East Bay CDC gets about a 65% discount. In 2016, its property tax bill was $36,594. In 2017, the bill was $37,086. The rest of the town covers the difference.

For what?

How about children in the schools, for starters. It remains to be seen how many school-age children move into these apartments, but every taxpayer should wonder if little Sowams School is equipped to welcome a large influx of new students.

There are three reasons this development was conceived and forced onto Barrington taxpayers.

First is the disastrous Rhode Island affordable housing law, which allows any developer — nonprofit or for-profit — to ignore a community’s zoning laws and get whatever it desires. Density requirements, lot coverage … all mean nothing to a developer putting in “affordable” homes. Towns like Barrington are almost powerless to regulate them.

Second is the current town leadership, which partners with this developer and makes it even easier for them to get what they want — namely, an offensive number of units shoved into a small tract of once-rural land. This complex does not fit with its surroundings. This area of Sowams Road was relatively pastoral, with a blend of single-family homes of varying sizes, including some larger properties close to the water. This was not the place for urban-like density.

Third is the East Bay CDC. This corporation has existed for three decades, after launching with great intentions in downtown Bristol. They started by rehabilitating dilapidated mills into a wonderful senior housing complex, then moved to renovating rundown Bristol homes into multi-family apartment buildings. They’ve done great things in downtown Bristol and deserve accolades for their work.

Then they looked to Barrington and — twice now — built dense housing developments unlike anything else in their portfolio. It’s worth noting that this group led by mostly lifelong Bristol residents has never built, or even proposed, anything like it in their own backyard, where they might hear an earful from perturbed family, friends and neighbors.

Instead, they have claimed dense development is the key to financial viability, while simultaneously running a for-profit subsidiary of Sweetbriar that accrues separate federal tax credits and shows annual profits.

Meanwhile, everyone else living in Barrington pays excessive property taxes, and home prices, for the privilege of living in a beautiful seaside community with great schools and family life. East Bay CDC does not play by the same rules, face the same hurdles or care for the good of this community.

Hopefully this is their final foray into Barrington.

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