Contentious proposals spawned by the Rhode Island Affordable Housing Act led the Rhode Island House and Senate Oversight Commission to convene a study group to determine how the act might be revised to improve performance. The Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns distributed a questionnaire to all 39 municipalities for suggestions that might better meet individual community housing needs. Council members Tom Gentz and myself and Affordable Housing Commission Chair Evelyn Smith prepared the response for Charlestown. Mr. Gentz has since been appointed to one of the 14 seats on the statewide study group. This letter communicates a summary of the observations forwarded for Charlestown. The unabridged response can be found at this link: http://www.charlestownri.org/vertical/sites/percent7BD F68A5B8-A4F3-47A1-AE87-B411E21C6E1Cpercent7D/uploads/RI_League_Affordable_Housing_Survey.pdf.
• Compatibility of the Act with other approved statewide and local land-use plans:
The act allows exemption of developers from local zoning regulations that are in compliance with state-approved municipal comprehensive plans and the state guide plan, including Land Use 2025. Municipalities outside the Urban-Services Boundary (i.e., rural communities dependent on private wells and individual septic systems) are particularly vulnerable to this land-use exemption. We urge the act be revised to assure compliance with other state-approved land-use plans.
• Compliance with the 10 percent target for affordable housing:
The charge that 10 percent of all housing in every municipality must meet the legal definition for affordable housing (see below) ignores regional differences in opportunity for compliance, owing to regional differences in available public services, land-use plans, economic activity and job opportunities. Demand for housing is tied to what the infrastructure can support. We urge that each municipality, guided by its comprehensive plan and in consultation with state planning, be allowed to identify its unique housing needs and set its own short- and long-term goals. The current target of 10 percent for all is arbitrary and simplistic.
• Definition of affordable housing:
To be included in the affordable housing inventory of owner-occupied homes, the home must be government-subsidized and deed-restricted so resale is limited only to buyers eligible for affordable housing. The law was written in 2004, during the real estate bubble. The market has since been flooded with homes priced within the range approved for purchase by those eligible for affordable housing (no more than 30 percent of income dedicated to mortgage, taxes and insurance.) Buyers eligible for affordable housing may satisfy their housing needs by purchasing homes on the open market, without government subsidy or deed restrictions. This option competes with affordable housing, and should be accounted for in setting affordable housing goals.
The writer is a member of the Charlestown Town Council.