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Affordable Housing

The West Greenwich Affordable Housing Plan was adopted by the Town Council in December 2004 as a component of the Comprehensive Plan, and received State approval on September 30, 2005. We are currently drafting ordinances to implement the plan. (Inclusionary Zoning, Accessory Dwelling Units, Mixed Use Village Districts, possible funding stream)

West Greeenwich does not have its own Housing Authority. Contact Rhode Island Housing for help with finding a home to rent or buy, and to explore your financing options. Their number is 401 457-1234 .

You can also contact the Coventry Housing Authority for additional local housing options. They can be reached at 401 828-4367.

For additional information on heating assistance or food assistance, please contact our Human Services Director, Marge, at 397-4234.

Here is a Resource Guide with contact information for a variety of affordable housing related assistance, put together by the Community Housing Land Trust of RI (under the Housing Network of RI).

***Do you need help for repairs to your home?***
USDA-Rural Development Housing Preservation Funds
Housing Preservation Grant assistance is available to assist very-low and low-income homeowners to repair and rehabilitate their homes. Financial assistance provided by the grantee typically ranges from $1,000-$3,000 and up to $10,000 and may be in the form of a grant, loan, and/or may incur short term property lien from large scale assistance. The grant funds are awarded to those in need on a “first come-first serve” basis while fund remain available and prior to the close of the grant period of September 30, 2013.
Contact Washington County CDC at 401-667-7185 for more information.

Additional Resources for those in need (meals, homeless shelter, GED, job skills, housing...)
West Greenwich supports the following regional organizations through our CDBG program:
Westerly Area Rest Meals (596-9276)
Welcome House of South County (782-4770)
Education Exchange (783-0293)
Washington County Community Development Corporation (667-7185)
RI Community Housing Land Trust (Housing Network of RI )

 

**QUESTIONS ABOUT THE AFFORDABLE HOUSING LAW AND HOW IT AFFECTS LOCAL ZONING AND DEVELOPMENT REGULATIONS**

What is all this buzz about affordable housing in Rhode Island?
In Rhode Island, each community is required to have 10% of its housing stock as designated housing for eligible low and moderate income residents.  In order for the housing structure to count, it has to have an affordability restriction, and it had to be either constructed new, or rehabilitated using special subsidies.  So, the fact that the cost of a home is actually at an affordable price alone does not make it count towards this required 10% goal. 

How are we supposed to get to that 10% goal?
Each community, if they have not already met this goal, must have a special plan in place to spell out how they are going to meet this goal.  Our plan is posted at the top of this page.

But how do you even know how much affordable housing you actually need?
It doesn’t matter, the goal is 10% of your total housing stock, because the assumption is that the need is much more than that.  There is an analysis in the plan, called a ‘housing needs analysis,’ that breaks down the percentage of very low-, low-, and moderate- income households and assigns these percentages to your 10% in order to determine how you need to focus your efforts in your community.  In West Greenwich, based on data from the year 2000, there are 258 low and moderate income households in Town who are paying more than 30% of their income on housing expenses.  Our 10% goal is for 179 affordable units.  Based on this method of determining 'need,' you can see that the need does exceed the goal.

So what if we don’t have a plan, or are not actually taking steps to implement that plan?
There is another process that the State has in place to facilitate affordable housing.  It is called the Comprehensive Permit process and it was created under the Rhode Island Low and Moderate Income Housing Act.  This Act established a 'one-stop shopping' type of application review process for housing developments that include at least 25% of qualifying affordable housing. This process is called a 'comprehensive permit' because the applicant only needs to appear before one local board to receive all the relief and waivers from all the local regulations, instead of submitting separate applications to all the applicable boards.  If the Town is not making efforts to implement the plan, we are vulnerable to this type of application being submitted.

That ‘one-stop shopping’ sounds reasonable, so what is all the controversy about?
The Low-Mod Housing Act also allows such an application to seek relief from the Town's local regulations and zoning, but differently than the typical application seeking relief, because the required findings of fact are different.  (You can research this yourself by comparing the requirements for a zoning dimensional variance with the requirements for a comprehensive permit) The most common type of relief sought is with respect to lot sizes and frontage and setback dimensions (hence increasing density), as these types of regulations are perceived as a 'local barrier to affordable housing.'   (Do a search for the word ‘density’ and/or ‘barrier’ in these documents:  ‘Rhode Island Five-Year Strategic Housing Plan, 2006-2010:  Five Thousand in Five Years,’  ‘Not In My Back Yard:  Removing Barriers to Affordable Housing,’ and ‘Why Not In Our Community:  Removing Barriers to Affordable Housing’) 

Of course, increasing density is quite controversial and causes a lot of hard feelings when we think about our 'rural character' and raises concerns about water quality, water availability, increased traffic, increased school-age children and tax burden, and other concerns that residents often bring up at public meetings. It does not mean that the applicant can do whatever they want-- the development still needs to be reasonable (the lots need to be buildable);  and causing no significant negative impact to the environment or on health and safety are major factors in making a local decision to approve such an application.  It is a balancing act.

A few years ago, RI communities were inundated with comprehensive permit applications, and many of these applications proposed double, triple, and quadruple the amount of homes that would have been allowed by zoning.  Some were proposing even greater densities than that.  The system was clearly being abused, but this situation forced the communities to adopt their required plans.  The State amended the law and included a moratorium on all such applications until the communities got their plans adopted.

Why is increased density considered such a major factor to create affordable housing? 
Well, an economy of scale should reduce costs, and if those reduced costs are passed on to the buyer, then cost per house is less. 

I still don’t get it.  Why do we have to do this?
It is the law.  The theory is that the need for affordable housing is stronger than the local reason for the zoning regulations.  The law states, “(v) Required findings. In approving an application, the local review board shall make positive findings, supported by legally competent evidence on the record which discloses the nature and character of the observations upon which the fact finders acted, on each of the following standard provisions, where applicable:    (A) The proposed development is consistent with local needs as identified in the local comprehensive community plan with particular emphasis on the community's affordable housing plan and/or has satisfactorily addressed the issues where there may be inconsistencies.    (B) The proposed development is in compliance with the standards and provisions of the municipality's zoning ordinance and subdivision regulations, and/or where expressly varied or waived local concerns that have been affected by the relief granted do not outweigh the state and local need for low and moderate income housing.” (Emphasis added)

But aren’t there other ways to make housing affordable that don’t increase density?
Yes.  We can try to capture existing affordable homes.  We can think of ways to reduce expenses in developing new housing.  We can even require that affordable homes be constructed in new subdivisions and help with finding a subsidy source.  See our Affordable Housing Plan, above, for discussion on these strategies.

Your new Conservation Design Development Ordinance contains a section about an 'Affordable Housing Local Subsidy.' What is that all about?
This section was included in anticipation of one of those ordinances mentioned at the very top of this page being adopted. While affordable housing is not yet required to be provided in a Conservation Development, it may be possible that some affordable houses could be built in such a development. You can understand how reducing infrastructure costs can help lower housing costs. This is entirely different than the comprehensive permit procedure discussed above, which increases density on the parcel to create an economy of scale. Both methods can bring down the cost of housing, but from two different approaches.

 

Here are some links to additional information about the topic of Affordable Housing:

RI State Guide Plan Element 423 summary
Rhode Island Five-Year Strategic Housing Plan, 2006-2010:  Five Thousand in Five Years
Rhode Island Housing Technical Assistance Resource Sheets for Cities and Towns
HousingWorksRI
Rhode Island Low and Moderate Income Housing Act

 

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