RI panel to study why most cities, towns miss 10% affordable housing goal

Politics - Government

FILE – A for sale sign stands in front of a house, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020, in Westwood, Mass. On Thursday, Nov. 12, U.S. long-term mortgage rates rose this week. They remain at historically low levels, now around a percentage point below a year ago. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — With house prices soaring across Rhode Island and new construction still depressed, lawmakers are set to begin a review of the state’s key affordable housing law.

The Low and Moderate Income Housing Act, first enacted in 1991, call for at least 10% of the housing supply in Rhode Island municipalities to be classified as “affordable.”

Only six out of 39 communities — Burrillville, Central Falls, Newport, New Shoreham, Providence and Woonsocket — met the 10% threshold as of last year, according to the 2020 HousingWorks RI FactBook, with East Providence set to join the list once a new development is completed. Less than 1% of housing was classified as affordable in Little Compton and Scituate.

A map shows how close each Rhode Island municipality was to the state’s 10% affordable housing goal as of 2020. (credit: HousingWorks RI)

The issue has been gaining more attention with the post-pandemic surge in home prices.

The Rhode Island Association of Realtors reported the median single-family house sold for a record $349,000 in April, up 18% from a year earlier, and there was barely a one-month supply of inventory on the market.

Yet only 1,329 building permits for new housing units were issued in Rhode Island in 2020, well below the roughly 3,500 units per year that were found to be needed in a 2016 HousingWorks RI study.

The R.I. House of Representatives voted in March to create a 17-member special legislative commission that will undertake “a comprehensive study” of the Low and Moderate Income Housing Act, including town-by-town data, existing economic and housing strategic plans, and what barriers exist to reaching the 10% mark.

State Rep. June Speakman, a Warren Democrat who sponsored the resolution creating the commission, was appointed Wednesday as its chair. State Rep. Anastasia Williams, D-Providence, will serve as its vice chair.

“It’s absolutely critical to both the safety and wellbeing of our people and the health of our economy that we look at what must change to meet our affordable housing needs,” Speakman said in a statement. “I’m very eager to get to work with the members of this commission. Rhode Island needs to work quickly to address our critical housing shortage.”

The housing commission is expected to hold its first meeting in July. Its final report and recommendations are due by Dec. 16, in time for the start of the 2022 legislative session.

Along with Speakman and Williams, House Speaker Joe Shekarchi appointed the following members to the other seats on the commission:

  • State Rep. Michael Chippendale, R-Foster
  • Rhode Island Foundation President and CEO Neil Steinberg
  • ONE Neighborhood Builders President and Executive Director Jennifer Hawkins
  • Grow Smart Rhode Island Executive Director Scott Wolf
  • Pawtucket Central Falls Development Corporation Executive Director Linda Weisinger
  • Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness Executive Director Caitlin Frumerie
  • Rhode Island Association of Realtors Government Affairs Director David Salvatore
  • Rhode Island Builders Vice President David Caldwell
  • Housing Network of Rhode Island/Community Housing Land Trust of Rhode Island Executive Director Melina Lodge
  • Rhode Island Housing Executive Director Carol Ventura
  • Robert Marshall of the Rhode Island Developmental Disabilities Council
  • Glocester Town Planner Karen Scott
  • Providence Department of Planning Director of Community Development Emily Freedman
  • Barrington Tax Assessor Ken Mallette
  • Bryant University Economics Professor Jongsung Kim

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram

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