Letter: How to improve the affordable housing law

Posted 1/12/23

Rhode Island’s “affordable housing” law, mandating that every town has to have 10% affordable housing, was written by and for developers.

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Letter: How to improve the affordable housing law


To the editor:

Rhode Island’s “affordable housing” law, mandating that every town has to have 10% affordable housing, was written by and for developers, not for affordable housing. There is a workshop tonight sponsored by Warren’s state legislators, to begin the process of amending the state law, so that it benefits those who need affordable housing, and not just developers.
Here are a few elements of the law that need to be changed:

Relief should only be granted for ‘affordable’ units, not for market rate units

Currently, the law allows developers to bypass zoning, planning, historic, environmental, and other normal review if they provide a small percentage of ‘affordable’ units. For example, the proposed Bettencourt Farm development would have 120 units, with only a dozen ‘affordable’ ones. This is a windfall for developers, allowing them to build large apartment buildings that would normally not be allowed or fit the zone, and don’t follow height, setback, lot coverage, and other regulations. Needless to say, by adding so many non-affordable units at the same time, these projects are also not moving the needle for towns to eventually satisfy the quota.

‘AMI’ should be town specific, not 48 towns
Currently, the “Area Mean Income” is measured by grouping Warren with 47 other towns. This area has a mean income of $100,000, so the 80% rule, which is used to determine ‘affordable’ housing, is $80,000. Warren’s AMI is $60,000, so the 80% rule is $48,000. Although it is still not poverty level, it is much closer than $80,000. The AMI should be changed to be town specific.

The percentage quota should not be based on only those units that are deed restricted

Currently, in order to count in a town’s state-mandated 10% quota, a residential unit must be deed-restricted for 30 years. No landlord is their right mind would want to do this, as it ties their hands behind their back. The quota should be measured by a different metric, like the U.S. Census every 10 years. It shouldn’t matter if those units are in different buildings from decade to decade, as long as the town’s total number is 10%.

I surveyed my own street recently and there are 27 residential units that, by the rent, would qualify as affordable by the state guidelines. However, I’m sure none of them are deed-restricted, so therefore none of them count towards the town’s quota. Landlords learn over time that if you charge too much, there will be a lot of turnover, whereas if you charge a reasonable rate, you will have stable, dependable, and long-term tenants. Warren probably has 20% affordable housing, already being provided by conscientious landlords, but most are not being counted.

All zoning, planning, historic, environmental regulations need to be met first

Currently, Rhode Island’s towns’ zoning, planning and historic, environmental laws are being overrun by developers and timid planning boards, the only boards allowed to review these projects. These “affordable housing” projects are steamrolling over every town’s requirements, which have taken decades to put in place, based on each town’s specific circumstances. This is a windfall for developers, allowing them to build large developments that would normally not be allowed in certain areas.

Davison Bolster
53 State St

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