If you have lived in Charlestown for a while, you may remember the cartoon that featured a seagull with string tied around its beak with the tagline “Charlestown ... the best kept secret in Rhode Island.” These days, the secret is out. Nevertheless, it’s not surprising that the results of the recent town survey indicate that residents enjoy a high quality of life and enjoyment of the town’s natural environment.
There are some troubling results from the survey also. Half of Charlestown thinks their government does not do a good job at listening to residents. Similar lackluster results were noted for treating all residents fairly, being open and transparent, and welcoming resident involvement. The Charlestown Citizens Alliance has been in control of government for over 10 years, so the lack of open, transparent government is their shortcoming.
Residents also noted the lack of affordable housing in town. Over the last two decades, the town has seen an influx of retirees. These retirees are attracted by Charlestown’s quality of life and low tax rate. They also draw on a lifetime of assets to purchase property and sustain their lifestyle without working.
Younger people who may have grown up in South County or desire to move here are increasingly challenged by the higher cost of housing. This demographic includes teachers, nurses, senior care workers, hospitality workers, police officers, volunteer firefighters, and trades workers. In short, the essential workers that allow a society to function.
Rhode Island General Law 45-53 requires that each municipality have 10% affordable housing. Charlestown only has 4%. Charlestown has a unique opportunity to address this problem. According to an article in the Providence Journal, Charlestown will soon receive a $2.3 million windfall as part of the American Rescue Plan Act. Some of this money should address the town’s legal obligation to provide affordable housing.
When my daughter was attending URI she volunteered on several projects for Habitat for Humanity. Charlestown should investigate how strategic partnerships with affordable housing organizations may allow it to “stretch” the value of the federal funds it is receiving.
In a recent letter to the Providence Journal (Dec. 3), House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi states that affordable housing is a top priority: “Federal funds aimed at assisting our state’s continued recovery present a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in housing. With the support of my House colleagues, affordable housing will remain a top priority in the upcoming session, as we strive to make Rhode Island a better place to live, work, raise a family, and age with dignity.”