House commission recommends changes to affordable housing law

PROVIDENCE – A House legislative commission studying the state’s affordable housing law and compliance among cities and towns has recommended a continuation of its work and a system of credits for the cities and towns meeting the goals.

The 14-member commission, formed in 2016 and led by Rep. Shelby Maldonado, D-Central Falls, released its broad recommendations in a report late last week. It examined changes that might be needed to the 27-year-old Low and Moderate Income Housing Act, which created a 10 percent affordable housing goal for each community.

Among its findings, the commission said the state should “rethink what it means to meet the requirements of minimum housing” through legislative changes that would provide financial credits to cities or towns that have met or exceeded the minimum housing goals.

Partnerships between cities and towns also should be considered, the summary stated, as should a continuation of its meetings into 2019 and more community-based discussions around affordable housing.

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The state commission received testimony from several cities and towns over the course of the past two years. Many communities that haven’t met the goals were critical of the existing law and the way its definitions either count, or exclude, housing units toward the affordable housing goal.

Several towns, for example, said mobile homes should be included.

In 2015, only Woonsocket, Providence, Newport, Central Falls and New Shoreham had met the 10 percent goal, according to the report. East Providence was close, with 9.8 percent of its year-round housing meeting the requirement for low-to-moderate-income renters or buyers.

The definition of low-to-moderate-income includes up to 120 percent of the median income, or as much as $40,000, according to Maldonado. The state representative, a millennial professional, just recently purchased a home in Central Falls. “And it took me about three years,” she said.

In written statements, several towns that have less than 4 percent affordable housing stock said the 10 percent requirement is unrealistic and penalizes towns that do not have access to public infrastructure, including water and sewer service. Some cited the lack of jobs in the towns for poor-to-moderate-income workers, and a lack of access to public bus or train service.

Glocester said the “one-size-fits-all” definition for 10 percent doesn’t take into account key differences in cities and towns, including land capacity and local growth rates. In that town, over the past decade, only 17 new homes a year have been built. In 2015, 2.2 percent of its housing was affordable for low-to-moderate-income Rhode Islanders. To meet the state affordable housing goal, the town would need 300 more low-to-moderate-income units.

Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at macdonald@pbn.com.