Little Compton is expensive — but is housing ‘attainable’?

Town looks to new regs to help families who fall between the cracks

By Ruth Rasmussen
Posted 7/9/24

With an affordable housing crisis entrenched in Little Compton, town officials hope to change zoning regulations to help keep working people and their families in town, and to ease the pressure on …

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Little Compton is expensive — but is housing ‘attainable’?

Town looks to new regs to help families who fall between the cracks


With an affordable housing crisis entrenched in Little Compton, town officials hope to change zoning regulations to help keep working people and their families in town, and to ease the pressure on older residents who have lived in the community for decades but can no longer afford to stay. 

The town’s ‘sustainable housing’ ordinance, if approved, would benefit primarily working individuals whose household income currently precludes them from finding suitable, affordable housing in Little Compton.

The new ordinance is specifically designed for potential property owners who fall into one of two groups related to income levels: Those in the “affordable” group have household incomes that do not exceed levels specifically defined by state and federal housing agencies, and those in the “attainable” group don’t fit into the affordable category because of higher income levels, but who still need help to secure housing.

The town council will hold a public hearing on the proposed ordinance change on Thursday, July 25.


Why now?

Over the past several decades, Little Compton’s population has grown older, school enrollment has declined, and essential workers for the few small businesses that remain in town have become almost non-existent.

Most alarming, advocates said,is that people who grew up in town and whose families have been here for generations are leaving, even though they don’t want to, because of the skyrocketing price of housing.

Earlier this year, The Commons Foundation, a local organization dedicated to increasing attainable housing in town with a focus on home ownership for the working middle class, hosted a forum to bring community members together to learn more about the town’s housing crisis and to hear some ideas about potential solutions.

During the event, foundation representatives shared a handout showing Little Compton’s median single-family home price in 2023 was $900,000.

To purchase such a house with traditional mortgage financing, an individual or couple would need a $180,000 downpayment and sufficient income to cover roughly $5,400 monthly for mortgage, taxes, and insurance expenses.

A housing advocate who pays close attention to such trends is Isabel Mattia, a board member with the Little Compton Housing Trust, a municipal board that works to address the problem of housing affordability in the community.  Recently she compiled income data relating to the typical earnings of municipal and other workers in town to demonstrate what a working class family is up against when trying to find housing in Little Compton.

Mattia created some hypothetical households consisting of one to four people, with annual incomes ranging from $67,000 to $107,000. The incomes mirror what some Little Compton school teachers, municipal workers, farmers, and office workers typically earn.

Households bringing in over $100,000 annually – the higher end of Mattia’s hypothetical range -- can usually afford monthly mortgage payments in the $2,700 to $3,100 range, meaning they should be shopping for houses priced no higher than $450,000 – roughly half the $900,000 median home price in Little Compton. 

Town council member Gary Mataronas has often voiced concerns about these trends. He said he hopes the new ordinance, once approved, will make it clear what the eligibility requirements are.

“I don’t want people who grew up in this town to get bypassed. I want to see our Little Compton children stay in Little Compton.”


Density provisions relaxed

A key component of the new zoning amendment loosens current restrictions relating to density. Specifically, it includes: 

• A provision that reduces minimum lot areas in a residential zone to 30,600 square feet, or two-thirds of an acre;

• Less restrictive setback and lot coverage provisions than currently required;

• A requirement that houses be no larger than 1,800 square feet or more than 30 feet high, with lot coverage no more than 10 percent;

Other components relate to potable water and DEM approved septic systems.

The ordinance incorporates deed restriction requirements stipulating that when the property changes hands, it must retain its affordable/attainable status. 

It includes definitions relating to “attainable” and “affordable” housing and what income levels allow households to fall within those categories.

At a recent town council meeting, Mattia outlined the key differences between the two terms and highlighted the income eligibility requirements applicable to each.

“My hope is that the new ordinance will positively impact both groups of individuals – those who fall within the “affordable” category as well as those who are in the “attainable” category,” she said. 

Jim Lock, board president of The Commons Foundation, said an essential ingredient relating to the “attainable” housing designation is that it does not rely on state or federal money, meaning programs featuring such designations could potentially be less restrictive. For example, he said a developer could create a scoring system that gives preference to individuals who live or work in Little Compton.   

2024 by East Bay Media Group

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