Expanding eligibility for affordable housing

Fri, 08/17/2018 - 9:15am

The Block Island Housing Board is seeking to expand the affordable housing applicant pool on Block Island. In order to do so the board needs to do something that might seem counterintuitive; raising the island’s median income bracket. Increasing the medium income limit could provide more people on the island with the opportunity to apply for affordable housing. 

Speaking at the Town Council’s August 1 informational exchange work session, Housing Board Chair Cindy Pappas said expanding the applicant pool would mean regrouping Block Island in the same income limit category as the towns of Newport, Middletown, and Portsmouth. She noted that the median income limit for Newport, Middletown, and Portsmouth is higher than Block Island — currently grouped with the towns of Hopkinton and Westerly — which have lower income limits.

According to the State of Rhode Island’s median income limit chart for 2017, regrouping Block Island with Newport, Middletown, and Portsmouth would raise the town’s income limit for, as an example, a married couple from $77,100 to $89,950. Anyone making more than that would not be eligible for the town’s affordable housing units.

Pappas said the move “would give us greater flexibility for who could qualify for affordable housing. We want to give service people, like, for example, teachers and police officers, the ability to qualify for an affordable housing lottery. So we’re looking for a little more flexibility by increasing the limit on the median income for people who are allowed to apply for these houses.”

As a result of the Housing Board’s request, the Town Council is sending a resolution to the state legislature stating the town’s interest in regrouping Block Island with Newport, Middletown and Portsmouth.

“We’re hoping there will be an opportunity to lobby our representatives, and have letters written, for this request,” said Pappas.

Second Warden André Boudreau, who chaired the meeting in the absence of First Warden Ken Lacoste, said it was nice speaking with the Housing Board “face-to-face.” Boudreau and the Council stressed the importance of fostering a dialogue between the town’s various boards and departments.

“How can we help?” asked Councilor Sven Risom, who noted that knowing the Housing Board’s long-term goals would aid the Town Council in getting in alignment with the board. Risom said “the goal of the community” is to address the island’s housing needs, which has been a priority for the current Town Council.

Pappas provided the Town Council with an update concerning the Housing Board’s projects, including its Cherry Hill Lane project, and a newer project with the Ocean View Foundation. The OVF gifted the Housing Board with two single-family dwellings off of West Side Road, which are being offered for purchase to its tenants. 

“We’re looking for a dialogue, and an ongoing collaboration, between the Housing Board, the Town Council, and the BIED board,” said Pappas, referring to the Block Island Economic Development board, which oversees the West Side 20 affordable housing units. “The more voices at the table the better.”

Pappas said, “To recap, as you all know, we’re on the verge of getting our Request for Proposals together” for the Cherry Hill Lane project. “The Town Manager has been invaluable in giving us good guidance and direction on shaping that RFP — and we’re appreciative of the assistance from the Planning and Zoning boards. So we’re very excited about that project.”

The process for the project “has taken longer than we would have liked,” she said. “It’s taken a long time, but we’re hoping it’s going to finish strong, and finish quickly.”

Pappas told the Council her board was “approached by the Ocean View Foundation, and Josie Merck, their director, with an extremely generous proposal” to acquire a parcel. “She had personally created two affordable housing units on the west side, which she owns personally, and had rented for many years at affordable rates.”  

“So out of the generosity of the Ocean View Foundation, and Josie Merck, we will now have two more affordable units,” said Pappas.

Boudreau was complimentary of the Housing Board’s efforts, and said, “It seems like you guys do all of this stuff under the radar. It’s exciting to see a board like yours accomplish what it has. You’re an asset to the town.”

The Town Council then discussed what could be next in solving housing needs, touching on the need for more rental units, and a shift away from ownership units. Pappas said rentals are critical to the island, and noted that the Senior Advisory Committee is focused on creating housing for people who want to “age in place.”

“I see rental units being a huge answer to that, because if we had affordable rentals, if we had a few available, we might have people that are willing to be home-care givers,” said Pappas. “Having that rental pool just opens up another avenue for people to live here on a year-round basis.”  

Pappas said town-owned land might be more attainable than looking at other property for a solution to the island’s housing dilemma. “The town has some interesting little parcels of land that it owns” that could be beneficial to the housing initiative. “I’m a firm believer that we’re going to solve the housing issue one home at a time.”