Editorial: Affordable housing proposal gets boost from a bad law

Posted 5/7/20

Residents across Warren, and Bristol as well, should keep a wary eye on a proposed affordable housing development along the Kickemuit Reservoir. With plans to build 108 apartments in dual, four-story …

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Editorial: Affordable housing proposal gets boost from a bad law

Posted

Residents across Warren, and Bristol as well, should keep a wary eye on a proposed affordable housing development along the Kickemuit Reservoir. With plans to build 108 apartments in dual, four-story buildings, the complex could have enormous impact on demand for public services, most notably schools.

Consider how many new children could land in the Bristol Warren school district if this proposal turns to reality.

Opponents are angry about the loss of open space, the impact on surrounding neighborhoods and the dense concentration of low-income homes, but their anger should be channeled in the right direction — a state law that emasculates town zoning codes in favor of any developer who brings deed-restricted affordable homes to a community. Under this law, which should have been modified years ago, developers can bulldoze farm fields, chop down forests, build obscenely dense complexes and pave the majority of green space, all in the name of “affordable housing.”

Is “affordable housing” the culprit? Of course not. As much as any community, Warren is made richer by having a diverse population, both ethnically and economically.

The law is the real culprit. In addition to giving developers the freedom to trample on a community’s thoughtful planning and zoning rules — typically written by dynamic collaboration between private citizens and government leaders over many months — the law also recognizes only officially-designated low-income homes as “affordable.” It does not recognize the apartments or homes that are at the bottom of the housing market, but not officially enrolled in a low-income housing program. Warren has many of these.

Though they do not comply with the strict guidelines of the state’s “low-income” limits, these homes and apartments are far more “affordable” than what can be found in neighboring communities.

The point?

If any community should be forced to approve a dense housing complex to meet the state’s arbitrary standard of 10 percent of homes being “affordable,” it should be Barrington or Bristol or Portsmouth. Warren is already the most affordable community in the East Bay.

Unfortunately, town leaders have few options to partner with the uprising and oppose this project. Having said that, it should do what it can.

In Barrington, an equally powerless town council took an affordable housing developer to court and fought a project for years. The town ultimately lost, but it was matched against a developer with deep, deep pockets. In some cases, simply putting up hurdles can alter a developer’s plans.

Also in Barrington, citizens rallied around the cause and approved a bond to buy open space rather than see it developed in clustered affordable housing. This too would be a productive outlet for the Warren opposition group.

Public officials are fair game for criticism, and residents can rail against town leaders all they want. But if they really want to make a difference, they should encourage the Warren Town Council to get mobilized, and they should convince their legislators to finally change a law that strips towns of the right to govern as they see fit.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.