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Revolt Against Affordable-Housing Law?

The Barrington Town Council will raise the issue of making changes to the state mandate at Wednesday's tri-town meeting with Warren and Bristol in town hall.

Did a revolt against Rhode Island’s affordable-housing law start in Barrington Monday night, Dec. 17?

The Town Council decided to raise the issue at a joint meeting with the Warren and Bristol town councils on Wednesday evening, Dec. 19, in Barrington Town Hall.

“It makes sense to find out how Warren and Bristol feel about this,” said Mike Ursillo, Barrington’s solicitor. “Then you can decide the next step.”

Town Councilor Bill DeWitt could go down as the first revolutionary. He brought up the idea of pushing back against legislation that was a bit of an election campaign issue in Barrington.

“I’d like to see some push back,” he said. “The 10 percent mandate is completely arbitrary. And what we’re getting may not be what we need.”

“Let’s make a statement for a change,” he said. “Let’s ask the legislature to seek a change.”

DeWitt got some immediate support from Town Councilor Ann Strong.

“Ten percent does seem like such an arbitrary figure,” she said. “Towns should have more opportunity to craft more friendly legislation that meets individual needs.”

“I agree in principle,” said Town Council President June Speakman. “But it will be hard to change the law.”

Strong suggested seeking out town partners for the revolt, not just legislators. Town Councilor Cynthia Coyne proposed a workshop or forum of some type for communities to get together to see if they have common ground on which to stand for a revolt.

“I do think there are solutions if we can bring a coalition together,” said DeWitt.

Will Wednesday night be the next step in the start of a revolution against Rhode Island’s affordable housing law?

Gary Morse December 18, 2012 at 05:49 PM
Challenging the affordable housing legislation is an important step. It is environmentally unfriendly, and will only increase our property taxes. Thank you Councilors DeWitt and Strong for your positions on this matter. Thank you Councilor Coyne for supporting a workshop, but lets appreciate that any workshop hosted by RI Housing is suspicious from the start. Their regime and funding is based on unchecked expansion of these programs, not "best use of taxpayer funds" policies. One immediate step may be to simply put all future requests for affordable property tax abatement's on hold until this matter is settled. Barrington residents are already one of the highest taxed in the state on a per capita basis, and we need a new middle school that will push taxes even higher. Increasing property taxes to meet an obsolete statute is counter to the goals of affordable housing itself.
steve primiano December 18, 2012 at 06:01 PM
Having attended the meeting last night I would say that "revolt" might be too strong a word. The Council did take the first steps in possibly seeking some legislative relief from the current mandate. I am still not sure that the majority of the Council understands the damage that further implemention the current law will to do Barrington. Affordable housing, as it is currently being implemented, is bad for town finances, bad for property values, and bad for our schools. Furthermore, it is unfair for our already high property taxes increase to subsidize developers. In speaking on another issue last night, Councilor Weymouth stated that her primary job was to protect the taxpayers. The Council needs to go on record that they recognize that the current plan is bad for Barrington, and then do everything possible to protect us from it's negative impact.
john harker December 18, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Gary, Lorraine, Steve and Fellow Readers: That our TC has asked for financial guidance from town professionals on a senior deferment is appropriate. We all should know the deal. Likewise, it is equally appropriate for the TC to ask the same of affordable housing advocates. I've outlined elsewhere that the new Sowams project will yield, over ten years, close to a million dollar tax abatement (not a deferment) to the developer. Of course, I could be wrong...so if someone can post a financial impact statement as to the bill being passed to existing residents on this project, do correct me. On the advocacy positon being taken for more affordable housing, existing residents will pick up the majority of the ongoing cost of services, municipal and school, for those who will live there. This is the affordable model being advanced. Perhaps there's something this writer is missing, please reply if so. J. Harker
Lorraine F December 18, 2012 at 07:58 PM
John, I assume you were reading my comment in the "Tax Deferment for Seniors Proposed" story.
john harker December 18, 2012 at 08:35 PM
Lorraine: Yes, the two articles are closely related, especially as they relate to local property tax policy for our seniors. John
John Ward December 18, 2012 at 09:06 PM
The Woonsocket City Council will be meeting with our legislative delegation on the same 8% problem. Our city will be losing over $500k each year to this program. Combine that with the Federal Public Housing that only pays 10% of tenant rents, net of utility costs; the rest of the taxpayers are burdened with almost $2.5 million in additional property taxes to support the educational and public safety needs of the occupants of this affordable housing. We will be happy to support changing the law and plan to ask that the rate be changed to between 15% and 20% or that the 8% be applied to the tenant rent share and the federal subsidy which, combined, is more equivalent to a proper income measure on the property.
Ignorance is not bliss December 18, 2012 at 09:57 PM
We need to see the financial impact in hard numbers. What are the estimated annual taxes that Palmer Pointe will pay? Compare that to how much the current owners are paying on the property annually. The current owners do not add any financial burden to the town. What's the estimate of how much Palmer Pointe will cost the town in services and school expense? We need the financial impact broken down so every taxpayer can understand the implications of building this development.
Fred Diel December 19, 2012 at 02:15 AM
The only way to stop the affordable housing encroachment on our towns (sustainable development) and taxing the existing homeowners to pay their fair share is to repeal the current legislation at the state house. The voters of Barrington, Warren and Bristol were very vocal at the ballot box this past November. They voted in the same people to the state house that gave us this legislation. All our current legislators, Republican and Democrat, voted for this or did not vote against it. Out of the people running in the last election their were only 2 candidates that stated they would vote to repeal the current affordable housing legislation, but they did not win. Elections mean things!
Gary Morse December 19, 2012 at 11:02 AM
The affordable developer of Walker Farm, West Elmwood Housing, has asked the town for financial help to sell the three remaining homes on Rt 114. At last nights Barrington Housing Board of Trustees (Trustees) meeting, West Elmwood said they were reluctant to reduce the $210,000 asking price, and suggested that the Trustees use Barrington's Spencer Trust Fund to partially fund the mortgages. The terms of the mortgages, or how they would be paid back, were not discussed. I question the use of the Spencer Trust Fund for an initiative that appears to be designed to artificially inflate the market value of these affordable homes. This is little more than a subsidy to cover West Elmwood's lack of proper project planning and real estate market analysis. Is price rigging the mission of the town's Spencer Trust Fund? I doubt it. It was stated last night by West Elmwood, that one of the reasons they have not put up a fence along Rt 114 was that the fence would show to buyers just how small the backyards really were. If these homes are worth less than what they are being marketed for, all we would appear to be doing is helping West Elmwood market to naive buyers at a price higher than what the homes are actually worth. The town council should be questioning if this is a proper use of our Spencer Trust Fund.
Local Mom December 19, 2012 at 12:29 PM
When I see the Walker Farm listings over and over again, I ask myself if $210K is truly "affordable", given today's economy. Yet, I would hate to see the mortgages subsidized by the STF - not fair to the fund's intent or the town/taxpayers. Is there a financial penalty for these developers if their plans don't meet certain predetermined benchmarks? If not, somethings wrong all the way around.
Gary Morse December 19, 2012 at 01:30 PM
Local, When the EBCDC ran into financial trouble with their affordable development at 751 Metacom Ave (Kanes Way), they didn't go to the Town of Bristol asking for a handout. Instead, the EBCDC resolved it with the Rhode Island Housing and Mortgage Finance Corporation Board of Commissioners (see minutes from Thursday, June 17, 2010). That is where these financial problems belong, not with the residents of Barrington. Our Housing Board of Trustees should not be bailing out anyone other than local residents in need, being the purpose of the Spencer Trust Fund.
Barbara Donovan December 19, 2012 at 11:13 PM
Before any funds are loaned, borrowed, or given from the STF, a professional appraisal on the remaining unsold houses at Walker Farm should be made!
Barbara Donovan December 19, 2012 at 11:20 PM
The aforementioned appraisal should be made by an appraiser familiar with Barrington and chosen by a neutral party, not the developer. The cost of this appraisal is well worth the cost of the proposed loan.
N8 December 21, 2012 at 04:34 PM
A taxpayer subsidy to help sell homes that were built with a taxpayer subsidy? Seriously!?!?!?! The discussions on the Sowans development can now conclude, because surely Walker Farm proves that there is no demand for this kind of "affordable housing" here.
Local Mom December 26, 2012 at 04:49 PM
Gary, no one studies these things from the outside more assiduously than you, and personally, I am very appreciative for your time and efforts. What is best way to message our thoughts on these issues to those who are making these decisions on our behalf? Also, do you know if anyone from Town Council, etc is reading Patch/comments? Patch creates a great forum for some spirited debate, but not sure our messages here are really helping.
Gary Morse December 26, 2012 at 05:51 PM
I'm hoping that when the council vote comes up for the property tax abatement's for the Sowams project, the town council will reject the request on a basis that residents are already one of the highest taxed towns in the state on a per capita basis. See: http://barrington.patch.com/blog_posts/is-barrington-the-worst-of-worst I also hope the council will reject the legal advice of our town solicitor to provide these abatement's given he also does legal work for the Executive Director of EBCDC in what appears to be a conflict of interest. This vote will happen in the next few months. Residents have to show up en masse. The project cannot move forward without the town residents subsidizing the property taxes, and at our current per capita hardship, it would be unreasonable for the council to make it worse. Perhaps the petition to stop Sowams could be expanded to include rejection of the request for a property tax abatement. And yes, I believe the council reads the Patch blogs.

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