RI Cities and Towns Struggle to Meet Housing Mandate

Friday, May 10, 2013


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The majority of Rhode Island’s cities and towns are presently failing to meet the ten percent federal and state Affordable Housing Mandate. Only six of Rhode Island’s thirty-nine municipalities have currently met the required standard.

Affordable housing, according to Rhode Island state law is “residential housing that has a sales price or rental amount that is within the means of a household that is moderate income or less.”

Lack of residential construction has slowed compliance.

“One of the problems with meeting the mandate and bringing municipalities into compliance is that there has been very little market rate construction,” said Kevin Flynn, Associate Director of Rhode Island Statewide Planning. “Hopefully, as we move out of the housing slump, we will see more market rate building take place.”

Title 45 of the Rhode Island General Laws states, “The general assembly finds and declares that there exists an acute shortage of affordable, accessible, safe, and sanitary housing for its citizens of low and moderate income, both individuals and families; that it is imperative that action is taken immediately to assure the availability of affordable, accessible, safe, and sanitary housing for these persons; that it is necessary that each city and town provide opportunities for the establishment of low and moderate income housing; and that the provisions of this chapter are necessary to assure the health, safety, and welfare of all citizens of this state, and that each citizen enjoys the right to affordable, accessible, safe, and sanitary housing.”

Paulette Miller, Planning and Development Director for the City of Woonsocket (15.79%), currently above the mandate, noted that the reported numbers only captured the long-term affordable housing stock, with a significant portion of the city’s reported affordable housing in senior and low-income housing developments.

“The city is facing many issues with housing,” she said. “We are seeing more foreclosure properties, boarded up houses, and bank-owned property. Private property issues don’t necessarily affect the affordable housing percentage unless there is a decrease in population or available housing.”

Federal funding programs support low and moderate income housing.

The city administers affordable housing programs through funds obtained from the federal Home Investment Partnerships (HOME) program. HOME funding is available to participating jurisdictions as an incentives to “develop and support affordable rental housing and homeownership affordability through the acquisition, new construction, reconstruction, or moderate or substantial rehabilitation of affordable housing.”

“We use the monies obtained through HOME to develop safe and affordable housing. It is over half a million,” said Miller. “Money that comes back in or is generated from the program, we put into low to moderate housing, rehabilitating and improving properties through safety measures and code enforcement. We also help people purchase affordable homes.”

Affordable housing earnings calculations are based on the average private sector wage in the community according to Nicole Legace, spokesperson for Housing Works RI that compiled the data.

“The median or average wage is based on the average private sector wage in the community,” Said Legace. “It doesn’t take into account the number of people who are unemployed or not working in the community.”

The state, through its planning department and Office of Housing and Community Development supports towns that are working towards the ten percent goal.

Comprehensive plan inclusionary support encourages compliance.

“There are several ways that we assist the towns with affordable housing compliance. One is through the comprehensive plan evaluation and another through funding,” said Flynn.

“The towns are on rolling deadlines for their comprehensive plan submissions. We encourage them to submit draft plans during their review process. Review of the draft plans allows us to make recommendations before the final submission and assist the individual towns through the approval process.”

Many towns already have affordable housing language built into their comprehensive plans, setting the goal higher than the 10% requirement in order to ensure movement towards compliance.

“A $50 million bond approved in 2006 allowed us to add 1200 affordable units around the state,” said Flynn. “The $25 million that was approved in 2012 will be split evenly in a two-year cycle and will provide stimulus to fund programs in support of the ten percent (10%) mandate.”

Several towns are gaining momentum.

According to Flynn, the town of New Shoreham recently moved over the 10% benchmark and several communities, including North Smithfield, North Kingstown and Middletown are close to meeting the mandate.

The City of Pawtucket (8.6%) is closer to mandate and also utilizes HOME funding to support its affordable housing stock.

“Every year we have an allocation of HOME funds for use in meeting our needs,” said Barney S. Heath, Acting Director for Planning and Redevelopment for the city. “The funds have been cut in half. We used to get $800,000 and now we get $400,000.

The city uses the funding in a variety of ways, providing down payments and closing costs to first-time homebuyers and working with community partners to redevelop acquired properties. 

“We also partner with two local non-profits, Pawtucket Citizens Development Corporation and Blackstone Valley Community Action Plan (BVCAP) to acquire, build and rehabilitate properties in the rental unit market,” said Heath.

One way municipalities encourage affordable housing projects is by making funding available through the Community Development Grant Program (CDBG). Established by the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, the grant makes funding available through each of Rhode Island’s thirty-four “small cities” through an apportioned share of $4.9 million available from the state.

Majority remain well below the standard. 

There are currently thirty-three municipalities that are below the state mandate.

David Provonsil, engineer for the Town of Scituate, (0.95%), stated that the town had not actively moved to build affordable housing. 

“We haven’t taken, as a community or housing authority, any action to build affordable housing or develop affordable housing,” Provonsil said. “We have had several developments proposed that include some form of affordable housing, but none have gone forward as yet.”

The state approved the town’s low and moderate income housing plan for inclusion in its comprehensive plan.

“The goal may take a long time to reach, but we don’t just abandon the towns that are at the bottom,” said Flynn. “We work with them and give them as much attention as those that are almost there. We evaluate them all fairly.”

Statewide planning is the pass-through for Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funds for the smaller cities and towns per Flynn.

“There is $4 million available to be distributed. Some of the money goes to community-based organizations (CBOs) who support low-income and at-risk groups, but we also get requests to fund low income housing projects. We try to make housing the focus.”

The current reporting system in Rhode Island tracks municipal housing stock that through a land lease and/or deed restriction is required to remain affordable for no less than 30 years from initial occupancy.

To access a full listing of compliance percentages by town, click here to go to the Housing Works Ri Factbook. 


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