On the “Awful” Affordable Housing Report

The following letter appeared in local newspapers and is shared with us here by the author George Tremblay
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George C. Tremblay
George Tremblay

The Chariho Times (12/20) and Westerly Sun (12/24) prominently featured articles in which two Richmond officials denounced my report on the regional performance of the affordable housing law (AH).  Politics being what they are, I take no personal offense at their denunciation of my work, but I am struck by the complete absence of any corroborating evidence in the article.  Did the reporters fail to ask the critics to explain their stance, or try to determine whether the critics could even articulate substantive reasons for rejection?  The reader is left inadequately informed.  I am grateful that we have local newspapers that dedicate ink to local issues, and I have been treated fairly by them, but this story reports a one-sided rant that disappoints.

One problem with debating the merits of the AH law is psychological.  It was a stroke of genius by whoever thought to give the “Low and Moderate Income Housing Act” the nickname of “Affordable Housing”.  The nickname manages to be both friendly and vague, a perfect combination to shield against critical challenge.  It’s tough to criticize AH without appearing to be a crank who might also challenge clean water, fresh air, and clear skies.  I have been writing about, and discussing, AH for over two years now, and I have met only one person unaffected by an AH project who knew the difference between the common sense definition of affordable housing (housing the average household can afford to buy), and affordable housing as defined and counted under AH law.  There is no doubt in my mind that if the public understood this distinction, it would demand revision or repeal of the law.  As it stands, it is not clear to me that the law benefits those in need sufficiently to justify the benefits garnered by the bureaucracy it spawned and the opportunists who profit from it.  As with the mortgage crisis, we have AH projects that failed because government subsidized risk at taxpayer expense.  We won’t learn from these failures unless we summons the courage to examine them without fear of political recrimination.

At every open hearing on a proposed AH project, we hear intelligent questions from the general public that rarely get a satisfactory answer: “How was the need for AH in our community measured?; Why is the target 10% for all towns?; Where do the occupants of new AH come from?; Are the projects successful?; What’s the difference between for-profit and non-profit AH projects?; Why don’t homes affordable on the open market qualify for the AH inventory?”  I gathered data relevant to such questions as they applied to the four rural towns of Charlestown, Richmond, Hopkinton, and Exeter.  The data were obtained almost entirely from government sources.  Do my detractors find fault with the veracity of the data?  Do they see more plausible alternative interpretations?  Do they have more reliable sources of information?  While we wait for the answers to those questions, I invite your audience to read my report and draw its own conclusions.  It can be found at http://charlestowncitizens.org/lmih-report/.

George Tremblay
(The author is a member of the Charlestown Town Council)