MIDDLETOWN – When it comes to addressing the city’s lack of affordable housing, there are different perspectives on the problem.
Recently, the Middletown Democratic City Committee passed a resolution calling on Middletown City Council to take meaningful action to develop affordable housing in the community.
The resolution was authored by Christopher Bove, a Middletown High School graduate and University of Rhode Island student, who is entitled to a US Department of Housing and Urban Development voucher because he is legally blind.
Councilor Dennis Turano said the affordable housing crisis is something they have been working on for two years now and the council is currently working on a few projects that would help increase the affordable housing stock, but these projects are taking time.
Christopher Bicho, owner of The Landings, said part of the problem in Newport County is its archaic zoning that doesn’t allow for building density. If the zoning was updated, more units could be built on the island, which could also include an affordable housing stock.
A five-year wait
At just 20 years old, Bove said he had to start thinking about what his life would be like after graduating from college. Leaving Newport County isn’t something he wants to do, but unless the housing situation changes dramatically over the next couple of years, he may have to do it.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Bove lived with his mother when he was not at the URI in the Oxbow Farm apartments, but like many during that time, she lost her job and left the state. This summer, Bove lives with his grandmother, sleeping on her sofa bed.
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After his mother terminated his lease at Oxbow Farms, Bove asked them in January if he could rent an affordable apartment for himself when he graduated from three college degrees in two years.
“They made me fill out an application and said, ‘OK, you are approved, but the waiting list is five years,'” he said.
This means that an affordable apartment it is approved for will only be available three years after graduating from college.
Since then, Bove has said he has been following the housing market wondering where he will end up because he doesn’t have the luxury of living with his parents after college until he settles down. .
Zoning codes are obsolete
In Newport County, many unsubsidized housing complexes are also fully let through July and August, but some, like The Landings, a 268-unit complex in Middletown, will not open until 2022, which also complicates the job of those looking for new long-term rental residences.
“It all comes down to zoning. Zoning codes are so outdated on the island because the island was founded in the 1600s. It’s not like Jacksonville. In Jacksonville, I can put 30 units on an acre. . In Middletown I can only put six same acre, “he said.” I’m not saying Middletown should have 30 units, but you have to increase the density. You have to allow denser development to create more housing, which brings down the prices, ”he said.
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An increase in density would also help reduce rental costs for the consumer. Currently, Bicho has stated that you can only build one two-bedroom unit for every 8,000 square feet of land and at this rate, he has stated that the owners can only build five two-bedroom units for each acre of land. ground.
“It’s economy 101. Price, supply, quantity, demand, so the more quantity of something you have, the more it is available, the more the prices will go down,” he said.
At this rate, Bicho said it was impossible to meet demand for long-term rental properties.
Another factor in housing and maintenance shortages for long-term rentals is the price of building materials. Bicho not only owns The Landings in Middletown, but he also owns several properties across the United States.
While he was a homeowner, Bicho said he had never seen such an increase in building materials. “I have never seen in 30 years an increase in the cost of materials for construction,” he said.
In Jacksonville, Bicho is building 210 new units in three buildings. The price of lumber for the first two buildings was $ 478,000. The price of lumber for the third building has increased to $ 508,000.
“So $ 1 million worth of lumber to build 30 units. Double! Double! So that’s what’s hurting housing production, it’s just the simple cost, because not only are you paying that much, but your rents have to go. be $ 2,000 a month because you can’t afford to build it. It’s just the reality, “he said.
A lot to consider
Turano said the council has taken the lead in addressing the affordable housing problem and is considering building 24 to 30 affordable units in the Peckham building, but the cogs of government are taking time.
“We actually have a few plans underway to approve other units in Middletown and it’s definitely high on our agenda. We actually met over the last couple of years. I was actually the chairman. of a subcommittee for affordable seniors housing and we have identified a few properties that we are looking to identify to convert them into affordable housing, ”he said.
The properties will be for both seniors and families.
“The process takes a while, so it took us a little while to educate people about it because in a community people understand what affordable housing is, get their feedback on affordable housing, where housing can be located, there are a lot of decisions to be made, “he said.
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Rather than just building new homes, Turano said there were other ideas the subcommittee had to address the issues, such as offering tax incentives to those who rent their properties to families and individuals. low or moderate income.
“There are state mandates and we should have a certain percentage of our housing for affordable housing,” he said.
For projects like this, there are a lot of things to consider, like making sure housing is located where people want to live, near bus lines, near neighborhood businesses.
“A lot of it is wrapped around government and you know the speed of governments is moving very slowly as well,” he said.
Turano said he wanted the process to resolve the issue to go much faster.
What makes housing affordable?
The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines affordable housing as housing in which the occupant pays no more than 30% of gross income for housing costs, including utilities.
As of 2004, the state of Rhode Island has required at least 10% of the housing stock to be affordable in all municipalities in the state.
In Middletown, to afford the average two-bedroom home, occupants must earn at least $ 65,000 per year or about $ 31.25 per hour, well over 30% of the median household income in the city of 73 $ 609 per year, and well above the city’s per capita income. income of $ 41,675 per year.
It is estimated that 31% of owner households and 53% of renter households are overburdened with the cost of housing in Middletown.
In his resolution, Bove writes that although the state’s affordable housing mandate has been in place for over 16 years, the housing stock in Middletown remains well below affordable housing standards, at just 5.4 % of housing deemed affordable, in order to meet the requirements of the State. affordable housing, Middletown will need to create 316 additional affordable housing units.
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But solving the affordable housing conundrum in Newport County won’t be a black and white problem. Bicho said affordable housing actually costs money and a landlord can only charge a limited amount for units. He said someone else will have to pay for it.
“The developer is not going to pay for it. Why would someone build something to lose money? You have to be creative in property tax subsidies or a higher density that allows the developer to build more units. so they can still make a profit and deliver more units and in that mix you can have affordable units mixed in, so you have the market rate units which is maybe $ 2,000 a month and then you have affordable units that would be a certain percentage, $ 1,300 or $ 1,400 per month, something a little less, “he said.
Since 2010, Bove said Middletown’s population has declined 1.2%, according to the United States Census.
Bove said the thought of being left out of the community he grew up in is stressful, but it’s a situation he will have to deal with.
“I can’t snap my fingers and make stable housing come out of the sky, but I think I’m doing the best that a 20-year-old in my position could do,” he said.
Bethany Brunelle can be reached at [email protected] 907-575-8528 or @bethanyfreuden1 on Twitter, Insta: bethanyfreudenthal, TikTok: thehijabicrimereporter, Muckrack: https://muckrack.com/bethany-freudenthal