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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Gentz’s Affordable Housing Plan Revealed

Psssst, here it is!
Documents giving details of the plan to change the State’s affordable housing law were released yesterday and Progressive Charlestown acquired them through an open documents request.

In this article we provide them to you and give our first impressions.

by Tom Ferrio

Here are links to the three documents:
  • This is the proposed resolution for the Town Council to vote on at the November 14 meeting.
  • This document is a White Paper containing the promotional justification for and explanation of the proposed changes. It is an expansion on the no-details document that Mr. Gentz released at the October Town Council meeting.
  • This document contains the actual proposal for the State legislation changes.

The four maps referred to in the White Paper are available here, here, here and here.

Before I write my reaction to what I’m reading I must give several disclaimers.

This proposal, and the original law being changed, are incredibly complex and are certainly beyond the powers of an average person to understand. That is partly because it’s legislation on a difficult subject but, I believe, also because making the proposal completely opaque serves the purpose of the people bringing this proposal forward through Mr. Gentz. That way people must rely on the White Paper explanation for what is being done rather than trying to objectively analyze it.

So, in this and future articles, we will search out the important points in what is being proposed and will bring them to you. We will almost certainly make some mistakes along the way and, as always, we invite readers to correct our factual errors. We will be doing updates as necessary to get this as correct as possible.

Throughout the discussion we will also be giving our opinions on this topic. I know you would be disappointed otherwise! We are also interested in other points of view and look forward to hearing them. However, if those opinions are justified by untrue facts we retain the right to point them out. If you want false statements to be spread widely without correction you can send them to CCA.

First reaction

After reading through much of the material my initial reaction is this - the proposal kills Affordable Housing goals by shooting it in the heart. Then it makes sure Affordable Housing is dead by cutting its throat, bleeding it out, drawing and quartering it, and then burying each portion in a different corner of the state.

Is that clear enough?

The undeniably most important feature of the proposal is not front and center in the White Paper; it's back on page 3. The existing Affordable Housing law tries to establish a long-term inventory of affordable housing units by requiring a commitment that the property will be affordable for many years. That is a noble goal but it has proven very difficult in practice to get those commitments. Mr. Gentz's proposal features an evolutionary change to simply count every housing unit appraised below $216,273 as Affordable. If at least 10% of the housing in Charlestown is appraised below that value then nothing more needs to be done.

Although I don't have the detailed data yet, I believe it is safe to assure you that we will easily exceed our necessary 10% of  affordable units by that definition. 

So that's it. I guess the rest of proposal and White Paper are just there to make it look substantial and distract from the real point - when this is passed we won't even have to give people vouchers to move to Westerly. Of course it always looks good to dress something up by claiming it will create more jobs and the authors of this proposal don't forget to include that claim.

In closing this article I must repeat that I have my own disappointments with the Affordable Housing law. However, nothing in this proposal seems to do anything to ease my complaints. I know several people who grew up in Charlestown, work here, volunteer here, and/or have friends and family here. They really, really, really want to live in Charlestown to be near one or more of those parts of their lives and they simply cannot find a place here to live. What they want is a clean and affordable place to rent and they have looked and looked without finding one.

Stay tuned to Progressive Charlestown for more analysis and opinion.