Editorial: Why luxury housing is good for the middle class

Posted 4/22/22

The highest-and-best use of the town-owned, former Carmelite Monastery property on Watson Avenue would be luxury townhouses for ages 55-plus. That may be considered an elitist stance in a community …

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Editorial: Why luxury housing is good for the middle class

Posted

The highest-and-best use of the town-owned, former Carmelite Monastery property on Watson Avenue would be luxury townhouses for ages 55-plus. That may be considered an elitist stance in a community with an elitist reputation, but so be it. Barrington has an unhealthy tax base with one-dimensional housing stock, and luxury townhouses would be a small step toward improving both of those problems.

First, consider the tax base. The vast majority of the assessed property value in town is residential — 94%. This leaves Barrington with one of the smallest commercial tax bases anywhere. Secondly, Barrington has one overwhelmingly predominant form of housing — single-family.

For these two reasons, and others, Barrington residents enjoy a high quality of life. There are no big-box commercial strips, no late-night deliveries at shipping terminals, no empty factories chewing up pristine real estate, no towering apartment buildings. This town’s streets are quiet, safe, tree-covered and scenic.

For these same reasons, it costs a lot to live here. Barrington has the highest average residential tax burden in Rhode Island. Homeowners pay more to live here — through property, sewer and motor vehicle taxes — than any other community in the state. There are obvious reasons why. The town has an extremely dense student population (good schools attract a lot of families with kids), but more importantly, it has so few businesses or large employers that single-family property owners pay for nearly all the public services.

Despite the high tax burden, Barrington remains a great place to live, and property values reflect that. The real estate market seems to reach a new zenith every year, and some of the recent sale prices are staggering.

This leads many to demand more affordable housing in town, which is the case on Watson Avenue. A special ad-hoc committee developing plans for that 7-acre property is leaning heavily in that direction. Hopefully the final recommendation of the 21-person group will steer in a different direction.

Affordable housing is an important driver of economic and racial diversity in a community, but it is not the only driver. Barrington is already home to three dense affordable housing complexes, all of which consume far more in public services (seats in classrooms) than they contribute in their significantly reduced tax bills.

Age-restricted townhouses would have the opposite impact. Regardless of how many units ultimately fill the Watson Avenue property, the saturation of market-rate taxes would more than cover their minimal consumption of town services.

There are many examples of these housing options luring away Barrington’s older residents. When their children finish high school, they often leave their high tax bills behind to purchase condos in places like Bagy Wrinkle Cove or Oyster Point in Warren, North Farm or Stone Harbour in Bristol, or Kettle Point in East Providence.

Barrington should find a way to keep them here, living in a gorgeous area of town, in a space already developed and used as a clustered housing facility for generations.

If not, and if the town opts for more affordable housing, more strain on services and deflated tax revenues, it will exacerbate the structural problems that exist here today. If it continues driving up the tax bills without expanding the tax base, the town will eventually find it is home to only two classes — the wealthy and the lower-income. The middle class will be living somewhere else.

2022 by East Bay Newspapers

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Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.