Affordable Housing Law gets a Health Check

The following letter appeared in the Westerly Sun and the Chariho Times, and is reprinted here with permission of the author George C. Tremblay. Mr. Tremblay is a member of the Charlestown Town Council.

George C. Tremblay
George Tremblay

Contentious proposals spawned by the RI Affordable Housing Act led the RI House and Senate Oversight Commission to convene a study group to determine how the Act might be revised to improve performance.  The RI 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 George Tremblay 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 state-wide study group.  This letter communicates a summary of the observations forwarded for Charlestown.  The unabridged response can be found at this link: 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% target for Affordable Housing (AH):
The charge that 10% of all housing in every municipality must meet the legal definition for AH (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% for all is arbitrary and simplistic.

Definition of AH:
To be included in the AH inventory of owner-occupied homes, the home must be government-subsidized, and deed-restricted so resale is limited only to buyers eligible for AH.  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 AH (no more than 30% of income dedicated to mortgage, taxes, and insurance).  Buyers eligible for AH may satisfy their housing needs by purchasing homes on the open market, without government subsidy or deed restrictions.  This option competes with AH housing, and should be accounted for in setting AH goals.

George Tremblay