Letter: On mandates, community centers, birds, and errant stones

Posted 10/18/21

To the editor:

It may be that the state’s mandate, that each Rhode Island town have 10 percent of its housing affordable, is not enforceable. Providing affordable housing is not a town …

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Letter: On mandates, community centers, birds, and errant stones

Posted

To the editor:

It may be that the state’s mandate, that each Rhode Island town have 10 percent of its housing affordable, is not enforceable. Providing affordable housing is not a town function. Portsmouth is, in its primacy, organized to provide schools, fire protection, police protection, and maintenance of town roads and property. 

I believe we should ignore the state mandate, as nearly every town will do. The town is not a proper agent of enforcement, and the mandate is therefore not enforceable (we would not, by mandate, require a health department to build bridges). Provided that the mandate were enforceable, it is likely a mistake to solve two very different problems with one solution; building a senior center and augmenting affordable housing. “Killing two birds with one stone” is always problematic and very difficult.

This is not to imply that affordable housing is not important. However, unless Portsmouth commits to building about 500 new, affordable housing units, we will not reach a goal of 10 percent. The Town of Portsmouth is not going to commit to building 500 affordable houses. Where would we find suitable, town-owned land? The town is not going to comply with any state housing mandate, legal or not.

The plan by CCH to build a token number of affordable housing units (and four market-priced units) also has the caveat of providing the town with a senior center. In fact, Question 2 has been framed as a “yes” or “no” vote on a senior center. If you assume that an 8,000-square-foot senior center will cost about $4 million, this might cost all taxpayers about $1 million per year; financed by a five- to seven-year bond. The cost to an individual taxpayer would only be about $25 per quarter. The Town of Portsmouth represents an investment of more than $3 billion by taxpayers. A $4 million investment in a senior center is very small, and we should build it ourselves to be sure we get what we want, and not what CCH might give us. 

Probably the most important question to ask is: What is the value of the “property interest” the town would be granting to CCH? The value of that interest, the exclusive right to use the building and land of the Anne Hutchinson School property, is unknowable, hence the true cost of the CCH trade is unknowable. Vote “no” on proposition 2 and don’t throw stones at birds.

David Goetzinger

2908 East Main Road

Portsmouth

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