2005-09-15 / Front Page

Plan strives to meet 10% affordable housing goal

By Donna K. Drago

Jamestown’s Affordable Housing Plan, which would meet the state’s goals of having 10 percent of the island’s housing stock meet affordability guidelines, was approved by the state Sept. 2.

As of when the plan was written, November 2004, the island had some 101 affordable units, which is just 3.65 percent of the total number of units, 2,428, currently on the island. In order to meet state guidelines, the town would have to have 243 affordable units, and it is shy some 142 units at present.

Housing that is considered “affordable” by state definition costs no more than 30 percent of the family’s income, with the family earning 80 percent of the median income or less. Currently, 80 percent of the median income for a couple is $43,450. A family of four could earn up to $54,300 and still meet eligibility guidelines for affordable housing. Using these figures, a couple earning $43,450 should be able to spend $13,035 per year, or $1,086 per month on their housing costs.

The plan states several reasons why Jamestown does not meet the state requirement.

“Jamestown’s island nature presents a number of constraints that make it challenging to develop affordable housing,” the plan says. Some of the reasons cited are “a limited amount of land, and much of it is protected for environmental and open space reasons.” Also cited are a limited water supply, and housing and land prices that “are among the highest in the state.”

Zoning restrictions and “community opposition” are also included as obstacles to affordable housing development. Another problem with land development is that “Jamestown is home to the largest Native American burial ground in North America,” the plan says.

Town Planner Lisa Bryer said that it is important to have the state approval on the town plan because it means “we are in compliance with state law.” This is the first time that Jamestown has had to have an affordable housing plan and it is technically an amendment to the town’s Comprehensive Community Plan, Bryer noted.

“Now we can begin to implement the plan,” she said.

The plan calls for adding 37 new affordable units every five years through the year 2030, then 36 by 2035 and 35 by 2040, for a total of 256 new units. According to the plan, the town will not meet the 10 percent affordable housing goal until 2035.

The plan identifies several locations for future development of affordable housing units.

Among them is the possible re-use of the Town Offices building at 44 Southwest Ave., which could be converted to 12 affordable units, the plan says. It also states that six new units could be developed at the Pemberton Apartments complex.

Bryer said that there is currently no plan in the works to convert the Town Offices, but the property “has always stood out as being a good location” for affordable units.

Adopting an accessory dwellings ordinance, which are units developed within or on an existing homeowner’s property, could result in 25 new affordable units, the plan says.

Bryer said that the Planning Commission will begin developing an accessory dwelling ordinance that will eventually be adopted by the Town Council.

These units could be provided to adult children or aging parents and will be deed restricted as affordable units and taxes may be limited by the town, the plan states.

The plan states the importance of a public information campaign to educate homeowners and vacant lot owners on what opportunities are available to them if they decide to create affordable housing units. One option for homeowners who want to provide housing for family members, detailed in the plan is to work with the Church Community Housing Corporation of Newport, to sub-divide a lot and donate a portion to the CCHC Land Trust. The trust then builds a house at an affordable price and sells the house, but not the land, to a new homeowner that signs a 99-year lease and pays a nominal monthly fee to the trust. Resale of the house is restricted to a price that will be affordable to another income-qualified family.

A position will be developed to implement the housing plan, Bryer said, noting that that person will begin work “very soon.”

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