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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Charlestown real estate continues to rebound

Bad news for the Charlestown Citizens Alliance
By Will Collette

The Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA) doesn’t have much interest in what happens in the lives of Charlestown’s working families, except when it comes to housing prices. 

The CCA’s hope and dream is to evade Charlestown’s legal, ethical, and moral obligation to boost its stock of affordable housing opportunities to at least 10% of its housing stock by exploiting the 25% drop in Charlestown housing prices since the beginning of the Great Recession.

The CCA’s plan is to get changes to the state law that would allow the town to meet its obligation by simply slapping an “affordable” label on homes whose values have fallen below $220,000. That's roughly what a family earning 80% of average median income can afford.

Mind you, this “affordable” label is not intended to help those homeowners but simply to evade state law. Frankly, I doubt many Charlestown homeowners would appreciate their homes being labeled like that since seeing so much of their homeowner equity vanish was not anything they wanted.

CCA candidates Tom Gentz (Town Council boss), Ruth Platner (Planning Commissar) and George Tremblay (currently on Planning but wants to get elected to Council) have been working their hearts out to push the CCA affordable housing deconstruction plan, hoping beyond hope that the state will recognize Charlestown as so special that we don’t need to obey the law that applies everywhere else.

But for several straight months, Charlestown housing values have been on the uptick. That’s good news for homeowners who lost millions of dollars of home equity during the Great Recession. I think I can speak for most Charlestown homeowners that I would rather see my home value rise than get a CCA “affordable” label put on my property.

According to, Charlestown home values hit their peak in July 2005 with Charlestown homes averaging $393,000. We hit bottom in April 2012 at $298,000, losing 25% in homeowner equity during the recession.

Since April, home values have been inching higher. The new Zillow figures put the average Charlestown home value at $301,200. While four months of modest increases don’t mean the housing recession is over, it’s some cause for hope that the worst is over.

New data from the RI Department of Labor and Training also shows good signs for Charlestown. I recently reported RIDLT’s data showing Charlestown at 11.8% unemployment, the fifth worst in the state and the worst among all rural RI towns.

The September data shows Charlestown’s unemployment rate improved to 9.9%, although part of that improvement over August was due to 50 Charlestown residents dropping out of the data pool – either due to unemployment benefits ending or giving up on looking for work.

Of Charlestown’s 7800 year-round residents, 4,144 are working and 453 are collecting unemployment benefits. That’s a very different constituency than the one served by the CCA which is populated primarily with wealthy retirees and nonresident vacation home owners.

Charlestown’s 9.9% unemployment rate is much higher than Washington County’s average of 7.5%.

This is an election year and Election Day is almost here. So these numbers deserve to be viewed in the context of that election.

The Charlestown Citizens Alliance is running its slate of candidates on its past record (they’ve controlled Charlestown town government for the past four years) and on strict obedience to their platform.

The CCA record and its platform of platitudes (or “Platnertudes”) have little to offer to the majority of people who live and work Charlestown. Indeed, the CCA has been, and promises to continue to be, hostile to working families, small businesses and middle-class households who need tax relief.