Letter: Town of Warren seeks to create more workforce housing

Posted 4/20/21

To the editor:

Question: When someone says “affordable housing,” what do you think? If you are of a certain age you might think back to public housing or as they were commonly …

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Letter: Town of Warren seeks to create more workforce housing

Posted

To the editor:

Question: When someone says “affordable housing,” what do you think? If you are of a certain age you might think back to public housing or as they were commonly referenced “projects.” History tells us that the stereotypes that these largely failed attempts by government whether local, state or federal generated, unfortunately linger today.  I think, I hope, we would all agree that the opportunity to access safe, decent and affordable housing is a reasonable expectation. Which leads to my second question, what is the definition of affordable?

In the late 1940s, affordable housing was defined as a rent or mortgage payment that did not exceed 20 percent of an individual or household’s income. In 1969 that income level was increased to 25 percent and in 1981 it was increased again to 30 percent, where it remains today. The rationale for this is housing costs below 30 percent of income are intended to ensure that individuals or households have enough money to pay for other nondiscretionary costs; like food, clothing, utilities, childcare the list goes on and on, just think about what your monthly expenses are.

From a housing policy standpoint, spending more than 30 percent of your income on housing makes you housing cost-burdened.

So, what does this mean for Warren?  Based on statistics in the 2020 Housing Fact Book published by Housing Works RI at Roger Williams University, the median single family home price in Warren was $301,000, which requires an individual or household income of $88,380. Alternatively, if you were not a homeowner, the average two-bedroom rental payment is $1,632 per month which would require individual or household income of $65,280. The 2020 Housing Fact Book reports that the median household income in Warren is $55,210. In Warren, a first-year police officer earns a base salary of $48,000. If we apply the above referenced 30 percent rule, that means housing cost of no more than $1,200 a month. The average reported salary of schoolteachers in Rhode Island varies with some sources indicating a low of $33,192, while other sources suggest a range of between $51,000 to $76,000 annually.

Rhode Island has had a myriad of affordable housing initiatives and programs; however, it still struggles to appreciably improve the availability of “workforce” housing and state leadership seems reluctant to consider alternative ideas.  In the next few months Warren will be able to begin to address the creation and availability of mixed income housing by adopting zoning changes that allow for greater density as part of the Metacom Avenue Corridor initiative. One proposed change will be granting developers will be additional building height or density  if they include units designated for “workforce housing.” Alternatively, a developer could also receive additional density by paying into a “Workforce Housing Trust Fund” if they choose to not designate a percentage of units for workforce housing. Funding for rehabilitation and infill projects is difficult to obtain and access to a town-administered fund will allow flexibility and incentivize property owners to create residential units on many of the underutilized or vacant second floors within buildings in the downtown area. In addition to providing alternative housing opportunities, additional housing will have a positive economic benefit for local businesses. 

In November 2007, the Town Adopted Article IV, Section7-132, Affordable Housing Trust Fund.  Unfortunately, there have never funds appropriated or grants received to fulfill the stated purpose(s) of the ordinance. Earlier this month, the Warren Town Council supported both a request through Congressman David Cicilline’s Office to the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee to provide funding for the Trust Fund; as well as a referral to the Warren Planning Board requesting to suggested changes to the ordinance. Among the changes being proposed will be the requirement that new development along the Metacom Avenue corridor include a designated number of units for workforce housing or a contribution to the renamed “Workforce Housing Trust Fund."

I started with a question. My goal was to offer perspective that “affordable housing” should not be considered a negative connotation. I will conclude with one more piece of information relative to home ownership. Based on the current Area Median Income (AMI) which is what Rhode Island Housing uses to determine eligibility for subsidized mortgages to support affordable housing, taking into consideration the Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Survey 30-year fixed rate mortgage average interest rate as of this month, anticipated taxes, insurance and mortgage insurance costs, the maximum sales price in Warren for a three-bedroom unit priced for 120 percent of the AMI is $346,000. That is considered affordable housing. My issue in these calculations is that the AMI area takes in average income of all communities within Bristol County. As referenced above, in 2020 the median single family home price in Warren was $301,000.

Bob Rulli

Main Street

Mr. Rulli is the director of the Warren Office of Planning and Community Development

 

 

 

 

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