News & Event
By ETHAN SHOREY, Valley Breeze Managing Editor
PAWTUCKET – The City Council is planning a series of meetings on a proposal to require 10 percent affordable housing in the new Transit-Oriented Development district around a coming new train station off Main Street.
Councilor Terry Mercer, head of the ordinance subcommittee, said this week that the council will hold a pair of meetings tonight, May 1, separating out the affordable housing component from the rest of the planned TOD zoning ordinance.
At 6:45 p.m. at City Hall, the council will begin discussing all aspects of the TOD ordinance other than the inclusionary affordable housing component, said Mercer. It appears all previous issues with those aspects of the ordinance have been ironed out.
At 7:15 p.m., a workshop of both the ordinance and economic development subcommittees will “start the ball rolling on addressing the proposal for an affordable housing component to the ordinances,” he said. The entire ordinance was previously sent back to both committees for further review, and Mercer expects the committees to vote separately on sending the “bulk of that ordinance back to the floor” at the next council meeting.
Members of the city’s commerce and planning departments have asked that the council adopt everything except the inclusionary zoning portion of the ordinance so developers can move forward with what they need for their projects. Developers are counting on making certain investments to take advantage of available incentives.
On the affordable component, said Mercer, there’s “a whole lot more vetting to be done.” Meetings will be held every other Wednesday, on off-council nights, he said. In two more weeks, there should be enough additional information “to meet again and wade through it,” he said.
Councilor John Barry III asked Planning Director Sue Mara last week that the city notify every property owner in the TOD district that they are part of the district and can come to meetings to hear the details. He was responding to previous complaints from longtime owners who said they weren’t notified of their inclusion.
“I just want to make sure that people know what this ordinance means to them and their property,” said Barry.
Mara said all property owners were properly notified previously and a meeting was held with more than 200 people at The Guild on Main Street. She said officials will again make sure everyone is notified of subsequent meetings through multiple modes of communication.
Courtesy of The Valley Breeze
PAWTUCKET – Creation of a new zoning district around the city’s coming train station is too important to approve it in a “half-baked” form, say City Council members.
The council, at its meeting last Wednesday, April 10, heard lengthy testimony from advocates who want to see a 10 percent minimum requirement for affordable housing in the Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) zone in the Conant Thread District around a coming commuter rail station off Main Street and Pine Street.
A majority of council members has been against including such a requirement. In the face of testimony, they voted to postpone a vote.
After those in the audience had testified, the council learned that the proposal to add such an affordable housing requirement within the proposed new Conant Thread Zoning District needed more work to even align with state law, as City Solicitor Frank Milos confirmed that it wouldn’t hold up without some corresponding incentive for developers. Council members sent the measure back to the subcommittee level to try to come up with something workable.
Council members, particularly Terry Mercer, expressed frustration that years of planning and collaboration could lead to a zoning proposal that doesn’t pass the legal sniff test due to issues with a few sentences.
Director of Planning Sue Mara said the added language came about due to talks with affordable housing advocates in the city. She conceded that she and others should have caught the issue.
Council President David Moran, answering questions about what this delay might mean to developers of potential projects around the station, said he and other city leaders expect this situation to be resolved fairly quickly.
“I am confident moving forward that in collaboration with the administration and the joint committees of both ordinance and ad hoc economic development and neighborhood improvement will work together in a speedy and efficient manner to bring something back to the full council to deliberate and vote on,” he said. “I have faith in the political process and we need to ensure we are all on the same page and get this right.”
The plan by the joint committees is to have something officially back to the full council within 90 days, he said, but it could potentially be sooner than that.
The council heard from one advocate after another last week who want to see the 10 percent minimum on affordable housing put in place, several suggesting that they believe the council is getting pressure from developers not to include such a requirement. Many also said they see 10 percent as the very minimum that should be required, saying it should be 15, 20, even 25 percent in the TOD district.
Mayor Donald Grebien issued a statement this week in response to last week’s move to hold off on a vote.
“Pawtucket has always had a diverse mix of housing options and it is the city’s goal, as stated in its comprehensive plan, to continue to foster a strong mix of housing opportunities,” he said.
For affordable housing, residents have to be at 80 percent of the area median income to qualify for it.
City officials last year declined to require a percentage of required affordable housing for the TOD district, but did pass a resolution encouraging such development.
Anne Grant, executive director of the Women’s Center of Rhode Island, emphasized the difficulty of finding affordable housing in the state. She shared how diverse neighborhoods with quality affordable units improve a community’s fabric and decrease crime.
Phil West, formerly of Common Cause, said he knows officials are facing pressure to take out the 10 percent requirement, but urged them to do the right thing and perhaps even increase the percentage to 15 percent.
“They will do it because this is such an opportunity,” he said of developers, warning against the gentrification that happens without safeguards put in. Once an exclusive community is created, he said, you “never get it back. Now is the time to insist on it.” He described the TOD district as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the city of Pawtucket.”
Some who testified said 10 percent is far too low, pointing to neighboring Central Falls, where the number will be 20 percent for that city’s portion of the TOD.
Mara corrected assertions that the district will be 50 percent in each community, saying it’s actually about 75 percent in Pawtucket and 25 percent in Central Falls.
Mara clarified that the TOD district is designed to promote residential, commercial and leisure uses that are within easy walking distance.
Resident Andi Wheeler said it’s imperative to support affordable housing options. Even if it wasn’t the right thing to do on its own, quality affordable housing means fewer people in shelters, jails and hospitals, said Wheeler.
Laura Burkett, of the Broad Street Initiative and a Bayley Street Lofts resident, said she loves the diversity of Pawtucket, and a 10 percent mandate on affordable housing would help promote that for the area around the train station.
Resident Lori Barden noted the importance of affordable housing to younger generations who crave metro living and want to come back to the state.
Kristina Contreras Fox, of the R.I. Coalition for the Homeless, was among those who emphasized the state’s serious problem with homelessness, saying development of affordable housing is a key solution.
City resident and former council candidate Andrew Maguire noted that developers, with only a 10 percent affordable housing component, will only lose about 2 percent on their price.
“We can’t bend over backwards for 2 percent,” he said.
Other young professionals emphasized the importance of bringing in other people who are looking to add value to a community.
Jessica Vega, a councilwoman in Central Falls, urged city officials to go beyond the 10 percent, calling it a “bare minimum.” Minimums of 20 to 25 percent would be better, she said.
Andrew Pearson, of Pawtucket Central Falls Development (PCF Development), urged leaders to pass inclusionary zoning, saying it would be a mistake to make the Conant Thread District “100 percent exclusive.” Such developments near other commuter rail stops are seeing rents start at $2,000 per month, he said, meaning someone would have to be earning $84,000 per year to afford them.
A 10 percent limit is a fair compromise to create a “more equitable and inclusive TOD,” he said.
Pearson emphasized that these are not low-income units, but moderate-income ones housing people earning up to $60,000.
Alison Bologna, an Oak Hill resident and owner of Shri Yoga, spoke in favor of the 10 percent mandate, noting that she’s trying to bring a 37 percent affordable housing component to her her new Pine Street location.
“Other larger developers could do the same,” she said.
Bologna said she loves Pawtucket for its diversity and said she sees a tremendous opportunity create an example of inclusion and affordability here. Ten percent is the minimum officials should go with, she said.
Wilma Smith, of the PCF Development Board of Directors, said developers should not be using housing as a bargaining chip. Pawtucket already has a shortfall of about 362 affordable units, she said, 2 percent lower than the 10 percent state standard for affordable housing.
Board member Kevin Kazarian agreed, saying displacing existing residents should be avoided. If developers walk away, so be it, he said, as others would take their place.
Jeremiah O’Grady, former council president in Lincoln and state representative now working for the Local Initiatives Support Corp., or LISC, noted the 25 percent affordable mandate Lincoln previously used for its mill overlay district.
Comprehensive community development should promote neighborhoods where people can work, worship, play and shop, all with easy transit options, he said.
Linda Weisinger, executive director of PCF Development, emphasized that units around the train station would be filled with residents of moderate income levels. She said there are plenty of federal resources available to develop such housing, as her organization has proven.
Mara said the planning for the district around the future train station, with construction due to get started this summer, first started nearly 15 years ago. The effort to fill vacant old mills and tie in local neighborhoods is important to the city, as it will maximize residential, commercial and leisure space, she said.
About 100 parcels of the development, or 140 acres, are located in Pawtucket, while another 30 properties covering 40 acres are in Central Falls. These are largely vacant and underutilized properties that are ripe for development, she said, and the city is seeing a lot of interest from developers.
Councilor Meghan Kallman took offense to suggestions of stepping back to consider options on the proposal, saying she opposed separating out the affordable housing component and approving the rest of the zoning ordinance amendments and saying she would want a guarantee that the council will consider the affordable housing mandate at a later date. She questioned why the document seemed “hastily and poorly put together.”
Councilor Tim Rudd said he also didn’t want to see the sections separated, as developers could easily move forward as officials consider the affordable housing component, starting the gentrification process.
Mercer took issue with suggestions that the council is against affordable housing. He said he hasn’t heard from a single developer who has pressured the council to vote their way, saying he’s simply trying to do what’s best for his constituents and the city.
“The council’s not anti affordable housing, we’re anti half-ass statutes,” he said, adding that he, too, found the proposed ordinance to be irresponsible.
The council heard from a couple of landowners within the district, William Coyle III and George Hovarth, who weren’t happy about being included within its confines and questioned why they would be included with little advance notice.
Director of Commerce Jeanne Boyle assured them that their properties would be grandfathered into the district, even if they were sold in the future. Hovarth said he would like to see an opt-out clause added to the final ordinance.
By ETHAN SHOREY, Valley Breeze Managing Editor
(Note: Over the last few weeks WhatsUpNewp has been exploring affordable housing issues. Last Friday, HousingWorksRI released its annual Fact Book, providing a detailed look at how the state and its municipalities are addressing affordable housing issues. To view our stories and podcast in this series, visit Affordable Housing. Meanwhile, we’ll be continuing our affordable housing series in the upcoming weeks.)
Businesses and communities benefit when there’s adequate affordable housing for moderate- and low-income individuals and families, a message that affordable housing advocates believe will begin to get those who typically have ignored the issue, to begin taking it seriously.
“A policy window is opening,” said Dr. Tiffany Manuel, a housing advocate, speaking at the HousingWorksRI luncheon at which the organization unveiled its 2018 Housing Fact Book. “Nationally we have a moment. How do I make them care? Why it’s important. Why it makes us better.”
Her premise is to equate affordable housing with economic development.
It’s an approach that is well documented on various websites that not only show the jobs created by construction but the number of employees that would be served by an increase in affordable housing.
Manuel’s comments came on the day that HousingWorksRI unveiled findings that only reinforced Manuel’s characterization of the “severity of the housing crisis.”
According to HousingWorksRI households at or below the state’s median household income of $58,387 could only afford to buy single-family homes in two (Central Falls and Providence) of Rhode Island’s 39 municipalities.
Only six municipalities (up from five last year) have reached the mandated 10 percent of affordable housing, legislation that was adopted nearly three decades ago. Burrillville became the sixth community reaching the threshold, joining Central Falls, Newport, New Shoreham (Block Island), Providence, and Woonsocket.
The state law requires municipalities to “ensure a minimal number (10 percent) of quality, affordable homes are available to low- and moderate-income Rhode Islanders for a minimum of 30 years,” according to HousingWorks RI.
The lack of affordable housing is reflected upon the number of Rhode Islanders struggling to meet mortgage payments or rent.
“The continuous climb in the cost of housing and lack of new homes has left more than 145,000 Rhode Island households, or 35 percent of all households, cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs,” according to the Fact Book. Some 44 percent of the 145,000 households that are cost burdened are considered “severely cost burdened,” spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing costs.
Some other of HousingWorks key findings:
Manuel emphasized the importance of federal, state, and municipalities of addressing affordable housing issues as a way of fueling the economy, good for businesses and communities. Here’s what some others say:
Courtesy of WhatsUpNewp
By Mary MacDonald | April 27, 2018 6:30 am
R.I. Housing and Mortgage Finance Corp. is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year in a position of financial strength, says Executive Director Barbara Fields.
It has created programs to assist first-time homeowners, expanded its servicing of mortgages to include those generated by MaineHousing and emerged from the Great Recession with a surplus of financial assets.
But it is working against a backdrop of unaffordability. Half of all renters and 30 percent of homeowners in Rhode Island are housing-cost burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their take-home income on rent and utilities.
Fields has been executive director of the quasi-public agency since January 2015. She previously was the New England regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the director of the Local Initiatives Support Corp. in Providence.
What’s the best way for Rhode Island to increase access to affordable housing?
“Build, build, build,” she said.
How has the mission of R.I. Housing changed over the past 45 years? R.I. Housing was established by the General Assembly in 1973 as a public corporation of the state. We have an independent existence from the state, although they exercise a central control over our board. Our primary purpose was to encourage investment of private funds for the development of housing for low- and moderate-income persons, and to function as a source of capital for affordable-housing development. We were basically set up to be the state’s housing bank at a time when many other states were doing this. Today, there are 53 housing finance agencies [nationally].
Within Rhode Island, what is your share of home loan origination? Last year, we did 13 percent of the mortgages in the state. Origination … is only 15 percent of our business. Eighty-five percent of our business comes from working with 40 brokers and lenders and we consider them, obviously, critical and important partners. The No. 1 is [Coastway Community Bank]. They help bring us business. Housing is economic development. We help support local businesses. … Also, we were set up to bring private money in to help people get into home ownership. We go to Wall Street and float taxable and tax-exempt bonds, both for single-family and multifamily.
Since the [Great Recession], what has changed in our business is we also sell in the secondary market. We get a warehouse line of credit. We work with three or four banks. We purchase the mortgages and when we get enough, we bundle them and we sell them in the secondary market as securitized mortgages.
What’s the benefit of doing that? The interest rates have been extremely low. There are key Rhode Island officials … who got their first mortgages at RIHousing. [Former Auditor General] Ernie Almonte in 1982 or 1983 bought [his] first house. The rates were 15-16 percent and we could get you 12 [percent]. We forget. In a video on our website he stands in front of his first house. That speaks to what our major focus and mission is. People who are early in their career, buying a home and setting roots in the community. Last year was a banner year. We did almost 1,800 mortgages. The average age of someone who got a mortgage through RIHousing last year was 37.
Is there any focus this year for the organization? Rental apartments for working families, working individuals and a lot more seniors. We have a growing senior population. … [Recently], we got the first-ever Capital Magnet Fund. We got one of the largest in the country. It’s from the U.S. Department of Treasury. It’s $4.7 million and it will help us on a key focus. … We run a lot of federal programs on behalf of the state. One of them is the federal low-income housing tax credit. … There are two sets of credits. One is a deeper subsidy, called the 9 percent. It’s highly competitive. We’re doing as much as we possibly can with what we get. The other, which is a shallower subsidy [of 4 percent] that has to be used with our first mortgage, that is limited by the state’s bond capacity. We are not tapped out, and we would love to do more of those deals. And produce more rental housing and preserve housing that exists. [With] that Capital Magnet, we’ll be able to fill that hole, between the 4 percent and the 9 percent.
What is the profile of your mortgage borrower? The average household income for the homeowners we served last year was … about $66,000 to $67,000. That’s teachers who may be in for a few years, certified accountants, nursing assistants, construction workers. This is the heart and soul of what makes up our middle class. And the average sale price was just under $200,000. And I’m proud of the fact that 27 percent of our mortgages are reaching the minority community. We’re seeing rising prices, so some of that rise is good, it means our economy is getting better. … One of the challenges is … just having more housing built in the state.
You’ve touched on the lack of inventory in single-family homes. What is the solution? How do we get more inventory? Build, build, build.
How? There are different pieces. Some of them we’re beginning to explore: if there are zoning challenges and communities that aren’t interested. Personally, I’ve been going around the state for the past year. I’ve been in Barrington, Middletown, Cumberland, talking to mayors, city councilors and town councils. I would have to say, by and large, they are welcoming. Everyone at this point has a story to tell. It’s either my son won’t leave the house, [or] soon it will be my mother won’t leave the house. Or my sister-in-law’s godchild and her fiancé are looking for a house, and they can’t find it. Seniors are staying longer in their homes. They’re living longer and are in better health. That’s not freeing [housing] up.
If there is an understanding of what the issue is, why aren’t more towns creating zoning to allow more density? I think South Kingstown just did some [rezoning] along Route 1. As I say to the communities, think about your community. I’ve been out with two mayors now, I’m about to go with a third, [and I say] drive me around your city, your town, and tell me, where do you want development? Because it is likely to come, and wouldn’t you want to proactively direct it to those places? In South Kingstown, they started talking about some properties that they knew.
There is always going to be some NIMBY-ism [or “not in my backyard”], but we have not had that raised as a major issue. We’re now funding our second project in Barrington. … We have done one now in Shannock Village, in Charlestown. These are apartments for families, most earning between $30,000 and $50,000 a year. Anyone can apply. But mostly you get people from your community. When we run the numbers in these communities, usually you find 20 percent of current residents would be eligible. … The most important thing to understand is there isn’t one type of housing that we advocate for. We have high-rise buildings. We have single-family homes being built. We have duplexes. We have ground-floor retail and townhouses.
So, people may have a visual that pops into their head when they think of affordable housing. They don’t want it developed in their community because they think it’s going to be ugly? We’re smarter about how to build [today]. We think about housing as part of the community, and community is the economic life of the state. I’m a community-development person coming into housing, so I am always thinking about the connection. We always look when we are financing multifamily rental, where are the parks, where’s the bus line, where do you shop for groceries? What is it that makes a community?
People still assume millennials are living in the basement with their parents. But they’re out there buying now, they are the starter-home market. You have a variety of mortgage programs, including down-payment assistance. But they’re running into an inventory problem. Are the state’s demographics part of the problem? It’s a variety of factors. You have millennials who are now ready to buy. You have a tremendous change in the economy. We went from the second-worst unemployment rate in the country to one of the lowest. We did a 10-year study. Even if the population grows slowly, we projected it would grow at 5 percent [over 10 years]. Households will grow at 12-13 percent. People are waiting longer to marry. You have a lot of singles, or two people in a house without a child until later. So, people need more houses. People are divorcing. You have more households being created by all of these factors. Especially if you go back and see what was going on 30 years ago. The average size in public housing is smaller. Occasionally we will see a proposal come in with a four-bedroom unit or a five-bedroom unit. But we are building one, two and three [bedrooms].
There is some pushback in Providence that the new housing being constructed is primarily downtown housing not designed to accommodate families, who also need housing. Does Rhode Island need more small apartments? A healthy rental market has about a 6.5-7.5 percent rental vacancy rate, so you have turnover, you have empty units for people to come and look at. The nation is below that. Rhode Island dropped last year … to under 4 percent. And Providence is lower than the state. Providence is about 2 percent. So, we need rental apartments, as well as owner-occupied apartments. We’re in a niche, but it’s needed across the income ranges. Part of what’s increased the demand here also is people coming from the Boston area. This is an attractive place to live.
In Massachusetts, a state law called 40B seems to have more strength in getting affordable housing built in individual towns. (The law allows developers to bypass local zoning in towns or cities that have less than 10 percent of the housing stock available at affordable prices.) What is the challenge for Rhode Island’s affordable-housing requirement? FortyB has a lot more teeth. I would say, yes, we have a 10 percent law. … A [state] commission is looking at how to make it stronger.
Do you think it needs to be made stronger, to distribute affordable housing? Yes, I believe so. When you sit down and talk to a community about who would live in the housing you’re talking about, it becomes a very different story. Up here, it’s like numbers, ideas and images. Down here, it’s “Oh, it’s my best friend. It’s my brother-in-law.”
There are many Rhode Islanders who earn less than the state median, as well. I don’t care what your job is. No one makes in their first five years what they might later. We want to accommodate that. I’m sure Ernie Almonte’s salary is different today than it was 25 years ago, when we helped him buy his first house. But that was a good investment to make. It wasn’t a giveaway.
Some activist groups have recommended rent control in Providence, to dampen price escalation. Is rent control an option? My preference is to build. Supply is the approach now being done in Boston. If we can increase the supply, it helps to moderate the prices. We are also involved in several efforts to make sure we maintain the affordable units that we have, that work for people at the lowest income levels. We are very committed to preservation, whether it’s senior units or family housing. We need to preserve what we have. A lot of the housing we’re preserving is 30 years old.
Some community advocates in Providence think city incentives via tax-stabilization agreements should not be used on luxury housing. The Fane Organization tower could be the next argument over this. Should public incentives be used for luxury product? I would just say the TSA process needs to be predictable. No matter what program we run, people want predictability. In Providence, TSAs are needed so we have predictability. If you meet these requirements, you can come in.
Sen. Howard Metts, D-Providence, has raised the issue of discrimination against Section 8 tenants, that the people who hold the vouchers are having trouble finding apartments. He has proposed a law that would prevent landlords from using the source of income as a reason to block a lease. Is this an issue? Absolutely. Thirteen states have that law, including four New England states. We’re supportive of [his proposal].
Gov. Gina M. Raimondo has proposed a transfer to the state of $5 million from R.I. Housing in fiscal 2019. Can the state “scoop” your funds? The board will have to vote on it. We’re going to minimize the impact. It will have an impact, obviously, but we’re going to minimize it. This came up in January. We know the budget will be made by the end of June.
Why did you agree to do it? The governor controls the board and we’re part of the team. Someone talked to the chairman. It’s not an optimal situation. But we’re going to minimize it. We get rated by the bond-rating agencies and we’re talking with them. They will take a look at our rating. But we happen to be in a strong position.
According to your most recent annual audit, your loan-loss contribution fell dramatically in fiscal 2017. What is the story behind that? The market is doing better. People are doing better. We had tremendous losses during the recession, now we’re on a different path. We hope it continues.
The same audit indicated that the three-month delinquencies on R.I. Housing mortgages rose between 2016 and 2017. What is the reason for that? We had a slight uptick, but we are on top of it. We are below nationwide and below New England. We have new metrics we’re following and are working with our 40 brokers and lenders. We look at people’s credit scores and we look at their ratios. We meet, we want [the Federal Housing Administration] to purchase our mortgages, FHA and Fannie Mae. We have some flexibility. We instituted a credit score to raise it a little, to make sure we’re in line with the rest of the New England states.
Some people think homeownership shouldn’t necessarily be identified as a dream for everyone. That maybe we shouldn’t be encouraging homeownership. Do you have any thoughts on that? We should always have a range of housing options. … There are people who need a homeownership opportunity, they’ve saved for years. It may be a single-family, a townhouse, a condominium. We need rental opportunities. Seniors who owned a home who need a rental opportunity. Supportive opportunities, say veterans, where there are services on-site for them. And we also work on properties where we have the vouchers. Every community needs to think, at different points in people’s lives … there are different reasons why people choose types of housing.
Courtesy of Providence Business News
Pleased by the favorable reception the Planning Board gave the Cherry Hill Lane affordable housing development on May 9, the members of the Block Island Housing Board turned toward implementing that project and others at their May 15 meeting.
“We were thrilled with the Planning Board's support, and look forward to their decision,” Housing Board Chair Cindy Pappas said. The five-home subdivision off Cooneymus Road has been the target of neighbors' objections throughout the permitting process.
Once the Planning Board issues a decision — expected at its June meeting — the next pending issue will be preparing Requests for Proposals for construction, Pappas told the Housing Board. She added that Town Manager Ed Roberge has volunteered to help, drawing on his expertise in developing RFPs.
An infrastructure RFP comes first, and will include the access road, drainage and septic systems, wells, water lines and other underground utilities.
“We know the road standards,” Pappas continued, referring to engineering protocols for the right of way that will serve the new homes and provide a throughway to abutting properties. The septic system design is done and awaiting approval by the state. Member John Spier advised including the final landscaping in the infrastructure RFP, to ensure that the first site work will not have to be redone at the end. Landscape design has been one of the sticking points with the abutting property owners.
Whether the new homes will use modular or stick-built construction is also yet to be determined. Pappas said she will follow up with a modular home builder in Connecticut, and Spier said he will keep in contact with the project's architect, Frank Karpowicz.
Consulting on Merck project
The Housing Board is working with island property owner Josie Merck on the sale of two existing homes, converting them to affordable housing units in the process. Kim Gaffett represented Merck at the meeting to discuss agreements and covenants that will apply to those homes. The homes will be occupied by the current tenants.
“It's well in Joe [Priestley]'s hands,” Gaffett said, referring to Merck's attorney; “he has all the templates.” Gaffett said some “site-specific” conditions may be added, such as limiting mowing of open space and agreements to share maintenance costs of a well and an access road.
Other provisions could establish precedents for future affordable housing projects on the island: Requiring a homeowners' association be created — even for a two-unit development — with a member of the Housing Board serving as an “arbitrator” between the owners, in Spier's phrase; and allowing the owners' children to inherit the property, with the original covenants and conditions continuing to apply.
“We will say the kids can inherit unless told otherwise,” said Gaffett.
Pappas replied that while the Housing Board hasn't taken a position on inheritance policies, “The point is to keep the house in the affordable pool in perpetuity.”
“That's what we're striving for,” Gaffett said. “We're still optimistic that the details will all work out.” Merck's proposal will go before the Planning Board in June.
The Housing Board commented briefly on two other housing matters. Spier said of a parcel recently acquired from the Ball-O'Brien families, “We'll decide what we want to do, and then find out what we can do.”
Pappas replied that she was “still hoping for a mix of homeownership and rental housing” on that parcel, which is adjacent to the E. Searles Ball rental apartments on West Side Road. Spier noted that “homeownership tends to produce a better neighborhood than just rental.”
Pappas also reported that Town Manager Roberge had recently convened a meeting to talk about housing. “Obviously, the town is very interested in housing issues,” she said, noting the vote at the Financial Town Meeting to issue bonds to construct housing for town employees on the Thomas property across High Street from the Block Island School.
However, the Thomas property is not an affordable housing project as described now, she said.
Courtesy of The Block Island Times
By ETHAN SHOREY Valley Breeze Managing Editor
PAWTUCKET – Finalizing local rules on affordable housing will take plenty of creative thinking, say those doing the legwork.
City Councilor Terry Mercer, who heads up the ordinance subcommittee and ad hoc economic development and neighborhood improvement committee, which are meeting together to discuss affordable housing requirements, said the joint committee is “nowhere near” ready to finalize a proposal.
On the table are potential incentives to compensate developers for creating more affordable housing, said Mercer.
At a May 15 workshop, the committee heard from for-profit and nonprofit developers, he said, and the for-profit developers offered plenty of concern about a proposed 10 percent affordable housing mandate.
The city is considering developing new requirements for the Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) zone around a future new train station off Main Street, but could also expand those requirements citywide.
According to Mercer, for-profit developers Colin Kane, Aurora Leigh and Seth Zeren all offered feedback that a 10 percent requirement would “put a damper on the likelihood of projects moving forward,” either within the TOD or citywide. They came at it from a standpoint of economic equality, he said.
“Many of their projects don’t quite pencil out as it is,” said Mercer, never mind with additional requirements.
Charging $2,400 or $2,500, even for a very nice unit in Pawtucket, simply isn’t feasible, according to the developers, and there’s no comparison here to Boston.
“They’re not paying regardless of how nice they are,” he said.
Nonprofit developers, including Brenda Clement of Housing Works R.I. and Andrew Pierson of Pawtucket Central Falls Development, were more enthusiastic about having a requirement for a minimum amount of affordable housing, calling for balance and equity while also acknowledging the issues facing developers.
At the May 15 meeting, officials got an update on the number of residential units that are currently in the pipeline for the city. Planning Director Sue Mara said there are four projects currently with building permits, involving 102 total units, and another nine projects through the planning and zoning process, for another 683 units.
Zeren said at the May 15 meeting that he’s not a fan of inclusionary zoning requiring affordable housing. The symbolism is powerful, he said, but the cost hurts development.
Clement said if there are incentives for local inclusionary housing, then there need to be local benefits.
Pierson noted that there are $50 million in public subsidies for development around the train station, so there needs to be a public benefit. He said he understands incentives are needed.
Kane said he has done three projects with inclusionary affordable housing. Pawtucket has plenty of it, he said, and doesn’t need more. The math doesn’t work in Pawtucket, he said. Private developers can’t be responsible for affordable housing.
Leigh, who is doing a number of residential projects around the coming train station, said private developers are taking the risk with their projects and need higher-income residents. Pawtucket has plenty of affordable housing now, she said.
Mara noted that the city is close to the state goal of 10 percent affordable housing.
Councilor Meghan Kallman, an advocate for more affordable housing and against gentrification forcing lower-income residents out, said many city residents can’t afford $900 for monthly rent. She’s seeking more information on available options.
Mercer said he would like more information on off-site offsets and incentives used elsewhere, including Fall River, Mass.
A number of options are available, said Mercer, including possible extensions of tax treaties and easing density requirements. One possible option being discussed is to offer up city-owned foreclosure properties in exchange for development of affordable units.
The committee will likely meet one more time next week before hopefully coming up with recommendations, said Mercer.
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