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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Spotlight on George Tremblay

Planning Commission will hear Tremblay's theories about affordable housing and senior citizen millionaires who cheat at Wednesday meeting
By Will Collette

When George Tremblay ran for Planning Commission in 2010, he told Charlestown voters about his career as a scientific researcher and his decision to dedicate his service to the town through the Planning Commission. For that, voters rewarded him with a six-year term.

But after less than two years on the Planning Commission, Tremblay is now a candidate for Town Council on the CCA slate, perhaps emulating ex-Gov. Sarah Palin, running mate to Sen. John McCain, whose campaign Tremblay supported in 2008[1].

At the upcoming Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday, September 26, we get the rollout of a sample of Tremblay’s research, his long-awaited study on Low and Moderate Income Housing in Charlestown, Richmond, Hopkinton and Exeter. Is affordable housing a threat or a menace to our rural way of life, a conspiracy by wealthy senior citizens or simply an annoyance to Tremblay and his colleagues in the Charlestown Citizens Alliance?

CCA's vision of affordable housing
Click here to read Tremblay’s report for yourself.

One thing you learn right from page one is that Tremblay’s study is limited to qualified low-income housing ownership and says nothing about the far more serious problem of the lack of affordable year-round rental properties. 

That’s like doing a research paper on the Charlestown budget that is limited to the size of the Planning Department’s budget. 

Put more bluntly, Tremblay's report is useless because of this failure.

Tremblay also includes a lot of nonscientific snark about the state law not allowing credit to the towns for properties whose prices have now fallen below the threshold of affordability. 

Plus, Tremblay drops a major bombshell by speculating that many of the elderly who qualify for income-limited affordable housing may actually have million-dollar-plus retirement nest eggs and want to acquire affordable housing for investment purposes – without a shred of evidence or data, but plenty of bias!

Tremblay’s attack on the state affordable housing law is CCA doctrine and has been shot down so many times, I am amazed that Tremblay raises it again. Stated simply, the state mandates the way affordable housing will be counted because it wants to create a permanent stock of affordable housing.

The CCA wants to “solve” our need for affordable housing by doing nothing other than classify homes that have lost value due to the recession as “affordable,” regardless of who lives in them, thus fulfilling our state mandate by doing nothing except some verbal sleight of hand

The owners of these homes gain absolutely nothing from this approach. Their pain at loss of equity may also be compounded by loss of income, given Charlestown's high unemployment and underemployment. Most homeowners are looking forward to seeing their home values climb above that “affordable” price level when the housing market rebounds, as it inevitably will.

Tremblay also challenges the state law’s use of 10% as the standard of compliance for each city and town. 

To Tremblay and to the CCA, Charlestown is so special that normal federal and state requirements that apply to other, presumably lesser, cities and towns should not apply to Charlestown. So naturally, Tremblay considers the state affordable housing mandate to be arbitrary.

But let’s not forget that Tremblay also supported the Planning Commission’s arbitrary determination that light poles in town shall be no higher than 15 feet (20 if over a road) to protect the dark sky, even though there is no scientific basis for that 15-foot standard, plus every existing example in town of good, dark-sky-friendly commercial lighting presented to the Planning Commission is taller than 15 feet.

Tremblay cannot claim scientific objectivity in attacking what he considers to be an arbitrary affordable housing standard, without applying it consistently to issues like commercial lighting.

It's hard to build affordable housing in our area

We learn from Tremblay’s paper that most affordable housing proposals never make it to final construction. 

On this subject, Tremblay provides what might be some unintentional honesty by noting that most proposals fail due to neighborhood resistance, including lawsuits, developers changing their minds and deciding to go for more profitable developments, and lousy market conditions (which is one big reason why developers change their minds).

After running the gauntlet of these adverse factors, it’s usually the nonprofit developers who build 100% affordable homes that tend to succeed, while the for-profit developers fail, switch to a different type of project, or find they can’t fill their units.

And that’s fine with me, since the one point of agreement I have with the CCA is their distaste for many for-profit developers (though I don’t make it an absolute as the CCA does). I trust nonprofit builders, such as those aligned with the Washington County Community Development Corporation, to do a better job for the community than for-profit developers.

Tremblay’s data shows that nearly all the local affordable housing units are occupied by Rhode Islanders and that most occupants come from either the host town or one of its neighbors. 

Tremblay says two-thirds of town workers don't need help with housing

Tremblay dismisses the need for affordable housing for town workers, noting that the percentage of town workers who live outside Charlestown is higher for those with higher salaries. I don't understand why that makes a difference since these gross averages say nothing about town workers' individual circumstances.

However, what Tremblay’s own data (below) does show is that only 19 of Charlestown’s 59 town workers live in Charlestown. That’s 32%. See “Table 7.” I do not see how Tremblay’s own data justifies Tremblay’s editorial conclusion that the “results do not support the need for subsidized housing for municipal employees [p. 11].”

Here's his data:
                                    Elderly crooks?

There’s one truly obnoxious assertion in Tremblay’s report that Tremblay needs to explain. Tremblay blows off the need for affordable housing for the elderly by claiming (without citation) that the law only takes into account actual income and not assets. 

According to Tremblay [p. 11], when you look at affordable housing that is limited to senior citizens with incomes in the 50%-80% range of average median income, there is the potential for this:

Yep, not only are the elderly the largest single bloc within Mitt Romney’s 47% of tax deadbeats, they also figure prominently in George Tremblay’s attack against affordable housing.

Let me remind readers that it is George Tremblay who touts his credentials in scientific research. The same George Tremblay who slanders the elderly without presenting a shred of data or evidence to support his calumny.

Maybe George has a million bucks in savings to draw upon, or all his CCA friends do, but is it valid for Tremblay to project his own fortunate circumstances on the rest of the population and call that science?

There’s another problem with Tremblay’s insulting hypothetical. If an elderly person is 70 years old and has a $1,000,000 401(k) or IRA, federal law requires that person to withdraw at least $37,000 a year. These retirement income distributions count as income. That, plus Social Security, would render Tremblay’s mythical senior citizen ineligible for senior citizens’ affordable housing.

Here’s what George Tremblay said about himself when he ran for Planning Commission in 2010:

Read his paper. Leaving aside his current choice to try to jump off the Planning Commission (despite his 2010 campaign promise) and get elected to the Town Council, do you think his paper is worthy of his stated credentials and aspirations? Or is he just another right-wing CCA ideologue who will torture the data to get it to say what he wants?

In my view, Tremblay produced a paper that is, at best, useless. At worst, it is an ugly and insulting exercise in deceit. It was a waste of town resources to produce it. 

It’s no wonder that Tremblay blackballed Melina Lodge, who applied to work as a consultant on this project. Click here for the whole story including Tremblay’s e-mails. If Melina had been on board, she would not have gone along with Tremblay’s scheme.

I am neglecting to note that at the Wednesday Planning Commission meeting, they will address five other matters regarding five Charlestown properties. If there are any surprises coming out of those discussions, you can count on your trusty Progressive Charlestown correspondents to bring it to you.

[1] Unexplained – on Tremblay’s campaign contribution to McCain, he lists his occupation as a self-employed attorney. Click on the link to the Federal Elections Commission and see for yourself. Yet there is no mention in Tremblay's very detailed campaign bio on the CCA web page that he is a lawyer. Either Tremblay's occupation on the McCain campaign finance report is wrong, or Tremblay's CCA bio is incomplete.