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From 2016 to April 2019, Providence identified 860 vacant and abandoned properties. In 2017, there were 747 such properties.
Before 2011, 5,000 square feet of land near Armory Park was abandoned. The owner was not paying property taxes and the plot was lead-ridden.
Since 2016, Providence has identified 860 similarly vacant and abandoned properties as of April 1, wrote Kevin Aherne, director of communications for Providence Planning and Development, in an email to The Herald. This number is up from November 2017, when there were 747 vacant and abandoned properties, according to a Community Conversation Presentation by Everyhome, a housing rehabilitation program.
The vacant and abandoned properties have been a problem for the city, primarily since the foreclosure bubble in the late 2000s. “Rhode Island, and Providence in particular, were identified as areas ‘hardest hit’ by the foreclosure crisis at the end of the last decade according to the U.S. Treasury,” Aherne wrote. “The mortgage foreclosure crisis of the late 2000s created an epidemic of vacant and abandoned properties throughout neighborhoods and cities across the United States.”
Within the city, the rate of occurrence of vacant and abandoned properties is higher west of the I-95 and lower on the east, which is where College Hill is situated, according to a HeatMap from Everyhome.
Differences in poverty, median house prices and the ratio of renters to owners all contribute to the disparity in the number of vacant and abandoned properties throughout Providence, said Sharon Steele, acting president of the Jewelry District Association.
The median household income in the East Side of Providence is $64,447, while the median household income everywhere else is $32,599, according to HousingWorksRI’s 2018 Housing Fact Book. Median single family house prices sit around $570,000 in the East Side and $168,000 in the rest of the city. The ratio of renters to owners is 43-57 in the East Side and 32-68 in the rest of the city.
The different rates of vacancies exacerbate socioeconomic differences between the two regions of Providence, Steele said.
Steele said the East Side has “high demand and limited supply. … If those forces are at play, clearly, those neighborhoods are not going to be ripe for the kinds of, shall we say, negative aspects that befall communities that are not blessed with the same demand-supply economics.” Economic activity such as the historic rehabilitation of Downtown Providence and the development of the Jewelry District also contributes to lower vacancy rates, she added.
Aherne works with EveryHome, which aims “to revitalize and fill every vacant and abandoned home in the City of Providence,” according to their website. The program hopes to preemptively spot potential vacant properties and support the residents within.
“The city is aggressively working to abate this issue, and significant progress has been made during the short existence of the program,” Aherne wrote. The work of spotting and restoring these properties is complicated by the fact that each vacancy violates different portions of the housing code, requiring a unique solution.
“Trying to figure out who owns (the vacant property) and who’s responsible for it has been the consistent problem for the city,” said Brenda Clement, director of HousingWorksRI at Roger Williams University. “Obviously, every city that went through the foreclosure bubble has the same problem.”
“We were essentially the subprime capital of the world right before the bubble burst in 2008 and 2009, so we had disproportionately higher numbers of those properties fall into foreclosure and fall into that whole cycle,” Clement said. “We also are in a state where we do not put a lot of resources into housing from our state budget.”
To return properties to local ownership and bring them up to code, Clement suggested residents work on their own to rehabilitate these properties as long as they are not too dilapidated for safe work. Sidewalk Ends Farm is one such example, a chemical-free farming operation that runs in the formerly abandoned plot of land near Armory Park.
“(The farmers) somehow got a hold of (the owner) and got his permission to farm there,” said Dawn King, director of undergraduate studies for the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, describing the potential for urban gardens to move in to vacant lots.
Clement added that Providence’s “anchor institutions,” such as hospitals and universities, should contribute to housing in the city. These institutions need to “contribute to a trust fund or agree to build two more graduate housing dorms or something like that. As a city, we also haven’t necessarily been as artful about that in negotiating with them.”
“I think Brown and others are starting to realize they have pretty big market impacts,” Clement said. “They need to do more,” but Providence also needs to incentivize these contributions from institutions.
“Providence is not just the East Providence or Downtown areas, we’re 25 neighborhoods in total,” said Rachel Robinson, director of preservation for the Providence Preservation Society. Robinson also pointed to preservation as a possible tool for helping neighborhoods unduly affected by historically low housing prices and high rates of vacancy.
Courtesy of The Brown Daily Herald
By COLLEEN CRONIN
SENIOR STAFF WRITER
Tuesday, February 27, 2018
University students lobbied for a bill designed to eliminate housing discrimination against homeless individuals Tuesday afternoon at the Rhode Island State House. House Bill No. 7528, entitled “An Act Relating to Property — Fair Housing Practices,” was introduced to the House Committee on Judiciary by seven Democratic representatives.
The bill will allow more of Rhode Island’s homeless community to find housing, said Morgan Talbot ’18, advocacy director for Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere. Without this legislation, landlords can discriminate against buyers in the Housing Choice Voucher program, which gives supplemented rent to those that score highest on the homelessness vulnerability index form, he added.
As part of their research, HOPE finds housing listings that discriminate against potential buyers who receive vouchers. “It’s pretty sad to see these,” Talbot said. “Sometimes it’s like, ‘No dogs, no smoking, no Section 8.’”
Maritiza Del Rosa, a Rhode Island constitutent who has experienced homelessness, was already inside the State House when students arrived. As Del Rosa walked around the House chamber with Executive Director of HOPE Gabe Zimmerman ’18, she shared her own story. She explained how difficult it was to get back on her feet and to raise children out of a shelter, where she still lives.
“Everyone deserves a home,” she said.
HOPE reached out to Del Rosa to tell her about the bill’s introduction after she left her contact information on a HOPE survey indicating her interest in advocacy. The survey, which asked 200 Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness what prevented them from finding stable housing, revealed “lack of affordable housing” and “sources of income” to be the leading causes, Talbot said. The bill would address concerns surrounding “sources of income” by outlawing discrimination against those who receive money from the government, he added.
Before the bill’s introduction at the State House, it had not seen much opposition, Talbot said. Mandated Section 8 inspections were included in the 2017 version of the bill, which passed the Senate but died in the House, he added.
“We don’t think (the bill) is going to be a hassle for landlords,” Talbot said. Some landlords actually encourage those with vouchers to apply for housing because they are guaranteed payment from them, he added.
State Representative Anastasia Williams (D-9), one of the bill’s sponsors, emphasized that “safe, sanitary, affordable living accommodations” are a basic human right.
“For far too long many of us haven’t been able to rest easy … especially those of us with children,” Williams said, adding that the “affordable housing” that is created isn’t always as affordable as it seems.
Before the House convened, students from HOPE and the Brown Progressive Action Committee approached representatives to advocate on behalf of the bill. Many cited similar bills that exist in Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut. Most representatives were receptive to the students’ pitch; some said they had to look over the bill before they could make promises, while others were busy getting signatures and sponsors for other pieces of legislation and asked if they could discuss the bill later.
When the bell on the House floor started to ring, most of the legislators, lobbyists and aids ignored it until the Speaker banged his gavel and the session began, at which point advocates were asked to leave the chamber. Outside, both Zimmerman and Del Rosa spoke fondly of their advocacy experiences.
“We got a lot of information on where legislators stand,” Zimmerman said. “For many students, it was their first time on The Hill,” he added, happy that the group was able to include constituents who had experienced homelessness. Del Rosa was also pleased to have lobbied, although she admitted that she had been nervous. She posed with her son and Zimmerman for a photo in the State House to mark the moment.
“Our goal, ultimately, is to end homelessness in Rhode Island,” Talbot said, “which we firmly believe is possible.”
The bill will be discussed at the Senate Judiciary meeting on Thursday.
By MELANIE PINCUS
SENIOR STAFF WRITER
Sunday, February 25, 2018
The summit, which was hosted by the advocacy and outreach group Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere and sponsored by the University’s urban studies department, included keynote speakers, breakout sessions and workshops led primarily by representatives from student groups and community organizations.
Among the workshop leaders were individuals who have experienced homelessness, including Jesse Hardy, founder of Jesse’s Homeless Outreach Project in New Haven, Connecticut.
“I want people to see that love … that we should have for each other, whether you’re homeless or not,” Hardy told The Herald. “You don’t always have to have money to help each other, you can just talk to people.” It is important for students to hear from speakers like Hardy to remember the importance of working with, and not for, people experiencing homelessness, Gabriel Zimmerman ’18, executive director of HOPE and Nathaniel Pettit ’20, HOPE’s education chair, said.
“I think we’re trying to be very mindful from the get-go of the reality of our positionality as students at elite schools and at a general place of relative comfort to a lot of people we’re trying to serve,” Pettit said.
At the same time, Zimmerman said students should know that they can make a difference.“We really want to encourage people to go down and work with community organizations and put their money where their mouth is when talking about social justice,” Zimmerman said.
Friday night’s keynote featured Dr. Sam Tsemberis, who developed the “Housing First” model for addressing chronic homelessness. With Tsemberis’s method, individuals experiencing homelessness receive permanent housing and then address other issues, such as addiction and mental health.
In more traditional interventions, “the attention was on the treatment of the condition, rather than including the person in a conversation about … the solution to what was ailing them,” Tsemberis said in his address.
The Housing First model has helped to virtually eliminate homelessness in Finland and has dramatically reduced homelessness among veterans in the United States, Tsemberis said.
“If only there was a political will to get that enacted nation-wide in different state and local policies,” Zimmerman said. “Some people think ‘oh, homelessness is intractable, it’s always been an issue in America,’ (but) there’s a way to solve this.”
Dr. James O’Connell, who helped found the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program in 1985, delivered a keynote address Saturday on street outreach and health care for individuals experiencing homelessness. O’Connell served as a “prime example” for those who are interested in learning how medicine can have social value, Pettit said, adding that “medicine is inherently based in social justice.”
“It’s just inspiring to see the way groups here just have really strong footholds in their communities,” said Emmett Werbel, a student at Columbia who attended the conference with Project for the Homeless at Columbia. “They’ve found a way to channel the resources of their universities into … effective, appropriate solutions, and I think that’s just given everybody from my club a lot of ideas.”
Developing connections with other student groups engaged in anti-poverty work is valuable, students who attended the conference said.“I think the goal was always to bring people together,” Zimmerman said. “We need to have collaboration to really innovate and make a difference on behalf of people experiencing homelessness.”
Members of the HOPE leadership team said they would like the summit to grow and potentially be hosted at a different university every year.
“I would love if we could transition from school to school … just because then you get the different perspectives, the different locations, the different community partners,” said HOPE’s Communications Director Katherine Garry ’20. “It’s definitely, I’m hoping, going to grow.”
In the meantime, members of the student organizations are planning to stay in touch through a Facebook group created during the summit. This network will help HOPE fine-tune its outreach and advocacy work, Garry added.
“I hope it can just remind us (of) the importance of this work and really just get us doing it on a broader scale,” she said.
The summit occurred during the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign, which began in 1967 and concluded in June 1968, two months after King’s assassination, according to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research & Education Institute. Zimmerman said this concurrence has symbolic significance.
“The idea of (King’s) campaign was (to) bring together a multiracial, multiethnic, multi-income coalition to fundamentally change — he called it the revolution of values— the way we look at poverty in the United States,” Zimmerman said. “All the people we work with are already involved in trying to make that change happen, and hopefully … we can actually achieve the goal of continuing our communal efforts to follow the vision that King set 50 years ago.”
By EMILY DAVIES
Thursday, March 8, 2018
After a childhood littered with eviction notices, Providence native Franklin Rivera began adulthood by moving into an apartment last year — and was promptly faced with a leaking roof, hazardous electrical outlets, an unresponsive landlord and the burden of filing a lawsuit. The apartment is so “unlivable” that Rivera has sued his landlord for “not maintaining the apartment and not having a habitable house to live in,” he said.
But the lawsuit may very well prove fruitless for Rivera; his lease is month-to-month, which means the landlord could choose to evict him at any time during the process with only 30 days notice.
Direct Action for Rights and Equality is hoping to support Rivera and other renters like him by putting rent-stabilization on the Providence ballot this fall, DARE advocates announced at a press conference in February. The initiative would establish the right to a year-long lease and enact regulations that allow rent to increase only once a year and by no more than four percent, said Christopher Samih-Rotondo, community organizer for the Tenant and Homeowner Association at DARE. It would also set up a rent board to publish annual reports on Rhode Island property and mediate disputes between landlords and tenants, he added.
In order to make it on the city ballot in November, the initiative must collect at least 6,000 signatures from Rhode Island residents. DARE plans to submit the first 1,000 signatures in the next two weeks, Samih-Rotondo said.
The rent-stabilization campaign comes as more and more renters enter the private housing market in Providence, said Steven Fischbach, supervising attorney for Rhode Island Legal Services Housing Law Center and Foreclosure Prevention Project. The hike in renters follows a foreclosure crisis that dominated the city in the mid-2000s, when high-interest, flexible and non-sustainable loans made it nearly impossible for homeowners to maintain their homes. As a result, many homeowners became renters, Fischbach said.
“Former homeowners have been pushed into the private rental market. … And the rental market is not set up to absorb them,” Fischbach said, adding that poor credit statuses caused by the crisis make it difficult for potential renters to borrow money.
The large volume of foreclosures created an excess of relatively low-price housing for investors to purchase, which often forces residents out of their homes to make room for businesses, Fischbach said. For instance, the Trottier family at 40 Grove St. in Federal Hill is facing eviction after the local rental business Providence Student Living purchased the three-family house to lease at a higher price to students, The Providence Journal reported.
Rent control would help mitigate the consequences of increased rent prices and investment presence, but the city needs to do more, said Betsy Stubblefield Loucks, consultant for Rhode Island Alliance for Healthy Homes.
“Rent control is certainly a part of the picture of creating more affordable housing stock, but another huge part is healthy housing,” Loucks said, adding that Providence housing stock is one of the oldest in the country and often comes with lead and insulation issues. “We can’t just look at these short, quick fixes without a bigger, broader process.”
There is also concern among housing advocates that rent control could lead to the exclusion of certain communities in areas that are more desirable to live — landlords tend to try to give apartments with “good deals” to friends and family, she added.
In addition to DARE’s efforts, nonprofits and legislators in the state are working to address concerns around affordable housing.
The Housing Opportunities Initiative, a Housing Network of Rhode Island project, is designing a ten-year strategy to respond to the concerns around affordable housing in Providence, Loucks said. The State House has scheduled a hearing to discuss trusts and services for children around the state, she added.
By ANNA KRAMER
SENIOR STAFF WRITER
Monday, November 27, 2017
Loud conversation and the smell of meatloaf baking filled the entryway of All Saints Memorial Church in downtown Providence Nov. 14. At the church every Tuesday, the hungry and homeless can find a free and freshly cooked dinner provided by nonprofit City Meal Site. On that Tuesday night, the short, graying and flannel-clad Reverend Maryalice Sullivan greeted homeless and formerly homeless individuals. On their way out, the constituents were stopped by a few University students, who asked to discuss political advocacy for the homeless.
These students — members of the advocacy and outreach group Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere — were conducting the 2017 Government Relations Survey, which is used to determine high-priority legislative goals for homeless individuals. The GR survey has been used in past years to gather data for nonprofit groups that lobby for legislative action in the Rhode Island State House, said Gabriel Zimmerman ’18, co-director of HOPE. The survey was formerly administered by the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, but reduced funding limited RICH’s capacity to conduct the survey this year, he added. As a result, HOPE volunteered to redesign and conduct the GR survey in order to ensure its continued existence.
Redesigned survey tries to ask the right questions
“We’ve decided there are some changes we wanted to make to” the GR survey, Zimmerman said.
In redesigning the survey, the group changed the types of questions presented, said Morgan Talbot ’18, advocacy director for HOPE. Surveys in previous years have asked participants to identify the largest and most pressing issues facing homeless individuals, according to the 2016 survey. Access to affordable housing was the most pressing issue for almost half of those surveyed in 2016.
That pattern repeated itself in previous years, Talbot said, adding that it made the survey increasingly less useful in providing new information. “Part of the criticism of the survey in the past was that we tend to get some of the same responses every year,” he said.
“This year, we’re focusing much more on concrete legislative actions that have been discussed previously by advocacy groups,” Talbot added.
At All Saints Church Nov. 14, Talbot asked homeless individuals to choose three out of 10 possible legislative actions and prioritize them. Proposals on the list included making “it illegal for landlords to deny housing to someone based on source of income or having a Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher” and funding “free child care for homeless families with children.” Other survey questions asked for ideas and opportunities not listed, as well as basic demographic information.
By the end of the night, Talbot, Zimmerman and other HOPE volunteers had collected roughly 20 surveys.
HOPE has made several other changes to the survey collection method this year. For example, the group now conducts data collection in Spanish, as well as other languages if possible.
In addition, surveys have been collected in other parts of Providence as well as Pawtucket, Cranston, Westerly and Woonsocket, and group members will travel to Newport and Middletown later this week, Zimmerman said.
By expanding the survey’s geographical range, HOPE has given advocacy groups a new asset in lobbying reluctant State House representatives. Non-profit groups and student activists hope to present representatives with data from their own districts and constituents, which should make lobbying more effective, said Will Gomberg ’20, one of two outreach coordinators for HOPE.
Legislative lobbying finds success
The group will analyze the data and present it to a meeting of non-profit groups at RICH’s headquarters in the coming weeks, Talbot said. The State House session begins in January and ends in June, and HOPE and other Rhode Island nonprofits will base their lobbying campaigns off of the results of the survey, Zimmerman said.
“We’re aiming to get about 150 to 200 surveys” before Dec. 5, Gomberg said. But HOPE, with the assistance of teams from other student and off-campus groups, has far surpassed that number. As of Monday, the group had collected about 250 surveys and aims to have 300 by the end of the week, Zimmerman said.
HOPE has participated in several effective lobbying campaigns in the past. In spring 2017, HOPE students were active lobbyists and participants in the successful movement to restore the no-fare bus pass for low-income seniors and individuals with disabilities. The group also canvassed for an affordable housing bond initiative in 2016 and lobbied successfully for a homeless bill of rights in 2012, The Herald previously reported.
“We always partner with existing community organizations if they’re already doing the work,” Zimmerman said.
Student outreach tackles case management
Students are often limited in their lobbying abilities by their academic time commitments, both Zimmerman and Gomberg said. In spite of those commitments, both outreach and advocacy have continued to grow. The HOPE outreach staff travels in teams of four or five, six nights a week on three different routes. Those routes travel through downtown Providence, the south side of Providence and Pawtucket.
HOPE works through two primary avenues — direct service, called outreach, and political action, called advocacy. The group has expanded in recent years, growing from 45 members in spring 2017 to 75 members this semester. That has increased HOPE’s capacity for both direct service and advocacy, Zimmerman said.
Some students are also beginning to build “case management” skills, Gomberg said. For example, a group of HOPE students recently received a training on how to help homeless individuals obtain various forms of identification in order to successfully navigate the application process for housing vouchers.
HOPE’s growth into case management, expanded outreach and new survey leadership all stem from a central motivating mission, Zimmerman said. “HOPE’s goal is to eradicate homelessness. … We believe that direct service isn’t enough by itself. There has to be a structural aspect to make change in the community,” he said.
At the meal site Nov. 14, Zimmerman spoke with Reverend Sullivan at the doorway during a pause in the collection of surveys. Systemic change to the problem of homelessness “would be my dream,” Sullivan said. “Society as a whole needs to grasp that there are those who have literally nothing.”
A few days before the trip to the City Meal Site, Zimmerman explained his dedication to HOPE while rain lashed against the window. “Once a week, you take two hours … and you have conversations with people who are literally in this weather living on the street,” Zimmerman said. It “reinforces how much more we have to do on behalf of the Providence community.”
Last month, a bill that would cap the proportion of registered sex offenders in homeless shelter beds at 10 percent for shelters whose capacity exceeds 50 people passed in the Rhode Island State House. A coalition of activists are now asking via petition that Gov. Gina Raimondo veto the bill, arguing that the legislation is “against the public interest.”
The bill passed the state Senate in June after the Senate Judiciary Committee recommended it for passage. The bill was passed in concurrence by the Rhode Island House of Representatives Sept. 19, and the veto petition was sent to Raimondo Sept. 26.
Seven individuals, including several directors of homeless shelters and non-profits, co-signed the petition to the governor. Forty to 50 individuals will be displaced if the bill is passed, which would create a public safety concern both for the displaced individuals, as well as the larger community, according to the petition. If passed, the bill would take effect Jan. 1, 2018, and the petitioners note that this would leave people homeless in the dead of winter. This would also increase risks of recidivism, petitioners say.
Perceptions of the bill are sharply polarized, and while detractors argue that the legislation jeopardizes public safety, supporters say the bill actually defends it.
State Sen. Frank Lombardi, D-Cranston, is a co-sponsor of the bill and introduced it alongside State Sen. Hanna Gallo, D-Cranston. Cranston is the location of Rhode Island’s largest homeless shelter, Harrington Hall. Harrington has 112 beds which are open to single men. “Harrington Hall has the highest number per capita of registered sex offenders transported there at any given time in the state of Rhode Island,” Lombardi said. This disproportionate concentration of sex offenders in a single neighborhood was the impetus for the bill especially because “the residence hall surrounds at least three elementary schools,” he said.
The question of appropriate maintenance of distance between schools and sex offenders is no new issue in Rhode Island. Convicted sex offenders have been restricted from living closer than 300 feet from any school property since 2008, The Providence Journal reported. In June 2015, the General Assembly expanded this to 1,000 feet for Level III sex offenders — those most likely to re-offend. This law placed 64 percent of Providence off-limits to these registered sex offenders, according to the Journal. In October 2015, the lawsuit Freitas et al. v. Kilmartin was filed challenging the law’s constitutionality as violating due process; after the case was filed, a judge placed a restraining order on the law, effective to this day and as long as the case remains unresolved.
“It’s very sad that we have a significant population of people who are required to register as sex offenders that have no place to live but Harrington Hall,” said Andrew Horwitz, petitioner and assistant dean for experiential education at Roger Williams University. Although the 1,000-foot rule is not in effect, the critics of this bill say that sex offenders do not have options other than Harrington Hall because of policies in other shelters and the 300-foot restriction. “We’ve got such incredible restrictions on where registered sex offenders are allowed to live that pretty much any place in Rhode Island that has affordable housing is off-limits for somebody who is a registered sex offender,” Horwitz added.
Concerning the safety of the public, “what reduces recidivism is stability,” Horwitz said. “When you render somebody homeless” by limiting the number of beds available to them in shelters, “you destabilize them,” he said.
One of the “public safety” concerns in Lombardi’s district is cases of sex offenders being dropped off at the shelter and loitering if no beds were available. He characterized the bill as an “incentive to have all of these homeless shelters share — not overburden Harrington Hall only with registered sex offenders.”
Lombardi had not heard about the petition but was not surprised to learn there was one; “there was a very vibrant debate” in the Senate, he recalled, “given the polarizing issues involved; on one side the issue of public safety and on the other side is the issue of homelessness.” Though he supports the bill, Lombardi recognizes more progress is needed to be made toward finding permanent solutions to homelessness, including for sex offenders. “We need the judiciary, we need law enforcement, we need the public housing folks,” he said.
The petition proposes an alternative path from the bill: a “study commission” that would devote time and resources to considering viable options for housing for registered sex offenders, which could inform future legislation. It also suggests potential amendments to the bill, such as changing the date it would take effect and limiting its applicability to Level III Sex offenders.
Horwitz himself is in favor of building more homeless shelters and having a more decentralized homeless system to relieve Harrington and the neighborhood; but fundamentally he said he views shelters themselves as only rudimentary solutions to homelessness. He would prefer legislation creating more affordable housing and repealing “irrational” housing restrictions to address Harrington’s predicament.
The main plaintiff in Freitas et al. v. Kilmartin, John Freitas, was a Level III sex offender. Barbara Freitas, director of the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project and formerly homeless herself, is his widow. She was another of the seven signatories of the petition.
Freitas echoed Horwitz’s concerns. The bill’s “attempt to keep the public safe is failing miserably, because they will end up in the street,” she said. Freitas explained that sex offenders are at least accounted for in a homeless shelter due to the requirement to register. This means that “public safety” is better served by keeping homeless shelters’ numbers of sex offenders uncapped for community members and visitors alike.
Freitas does not expect Raimondo to heed the petition. Freitas says she was part of a previous attempt to convince Raimondo to veto the 300-foot rule, without success. “Nobody wants to have the veto go through about sex offenders. That’s a sure way to have yourself not get elected,” Freitas said.
If the governor were to veto the bill, there would be no effort by the legislative branch to override the veto, according to Lombardi. The bill was transmitted to the governor Oct. 3. She is required to sign or veto legislation within six days of transmittal. The bill is “currently under consideration for action in the coming days,” according to the governor’s press office.
Correction: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this article stated that the bill was passed in the State Senate in May, In fact, it was passed in the State Senate in June. A previous version also contained an incorrect titled for Andrew Horwitz, petitioner and assistant dean for experiential education at Roger Williams University. The Herald regrets the error.
Courtesy of The Brown Daily Herald
The Ocean View Foundation is converting its two rental properties into affordable housing units. The non-profit is splitting a minor subdivision located off Cooneymus Road into two separate lots to establishing two single-family dwellings that will go toward the island’s affordable housing inventory.
New Shoreham Building Official Marc Tillson explained to The Times that the property contained “one old home, and a new home. The Ocean View Foundation wants to now refurbish the old building,” and split the lot into two separate lots that will be “dedicated to the island’s affordable housing initiative. It’s a win-win.”
“They’re changing the use of the property for that purpose,” said Tillson. “There will be two brand new homes to go toward the 10 percent of the island’s affordable housing” inventory. The project is being presented as a joint venture between the Ocean View Foundation and the Block Island Housing Board, which was recently granted approval for its five-dwelling Cherry Hill Lane development that includes three three-bedroom homes and two two-bedroom homes priced under $250,000.
The difference with the OVF’s project is the Foundation has been renting to two tenants on the property for several years who will have the right of first refusal for purchasing the dwelling they currently occupy. If the tenants opt not to purchase the properties, the Housing Board will sell them through the affordable housing lottery system. The OVF will also gift the properties to the Housing Board at no cost, with the net proceeds from the sale of the homes going to the OVF.
The project was granted a unanimous (5-0) favorable ruling at the Planning Board’s meeting on July 11, with board member John Spier recused, as he is a member of the Housing Board. The project now goes before the Zoning Board of Review for hearings.
Thomas Property zoning amendment
In other news, the Planning Board heard Town Manager Ed Roberge’s request to amend the town’s zoning ordinance to facilitate construction on the Thomas Property. Per authorization of the community at the May Financial Town Meeting, the town intends to construct a single-family dwelling, and repurpose the Thomas House into rental units for town-employee housing. The property is on High Street, located opposite the Block Island School.
As a result, the zoning ordinance needs to be revised to permit more than one kitchen within the repurposed building’s footprint. At its June meeting, the Town Council directed Roberge to explore amending Zoning Ordinance section 513 on Accessory apartments, or look into a community services zoning district comprising the Faulkner Property, the Thomas Property, the Block Island School, and the Block Island Medical Center. These parcels are located near the intersection of High Street and Payne Road.
Roberge broached those subjects with the Planning Board, which seemed to be in general agreement, but which also urged caution in moving too hastily.
Board member Sven Risom noted that “you can’t put more than two kitchens” on the Thomas Property, as it is inhabited by a duplex. Risom, who has been spearheading the project as a Town Councilor, said he thought the 513 should be amended to note that it is “based on town property” that allowed rental units to be built, while providing for greater flexibility for creating affordable housing projects.
Spier said that although he was “in favor of housing,” he thought the board should “look at the bigger picture” when attempting to amend the ordinance. “When amending the ordinance you need to look at the ramifications.” He said these types of projects are near residents who should have some protections, or at least have a say in the review process.
“Where does the density stop — in a residential neighborhood?” asked Spier, who noted that it should be “appropriate development,” and he would be concerned if he was a homeowner living in an area where this type of development was being proposed.
Roberge noted that, “It’s a complex issue,” while agreeing with Risom, and Spier. He said the amended ordinance should note that it’s for appropriate development, and be flexible.
The next Planning Board meeting is scheduled for August 8 at 7 p.m.
Courtesy of The Block Island Times
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