2011-06-16 / Front Page

Jamestown joins other communities in bids for housing grants

By Margo Sullivan

A regional approach to affordable housing has won support from the Town Council, which decided during its June 8 meeting to join the newly forming East Bay Home Loan Consortium.

The vote means Jamestown will team up with nine other communities — Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth, Tiverton, Little Compton, Bristol, Warren, Barrington and East Providence — in future bids for Housing and Urban Development HOME grants.

The decision came after assurances from the town administrator that Jamestown had nothing to lose by collaborating on HUD loans with other local governments.

Jamestown can continue to apply for federal money through Rhode Island Housing, Town Administrator Bruce Keiser said. In fact, the town will have to use Rhode Island Housing for any development projects in the immediate future because its share of the estimated $891,000 consortium pot is only $12,000.

The Church Community Housing Corporation will also stay in the picture because the consortium must — per federal rules — put 15 percent of its total HUD money into housing “developed, sponsored or owned by a community housing development organization.”

Two councilors — council President Michael Schnack and Ellen Winsor — were absent, but the three councilors in attendance, Bob Bowen, Bill Murphy and Mike White, agreed to collaborate, despite misgivings over the fact that the town doesn’t currently have any affordable housing projects in the pipeline, as Murphy pointed out, and might not want to expend any housing funds over the coming year.

The move is primarily being undertaken for future strategy, Town Planner Lisa Bryer explained in a brief interview after the council meeting.

“It just narrows the playing field because HOME funds are a competitive process,” she said. “We’ve had trouble getting funding.”

She also recommended the councilors support the consortium.

“It’s a little more focused on Jamestown,” she told the panel, since the town would be one of fewer than a dozen consortium members, instead of one of 39 cities and town in the whole state.

Bryer said although the $12,000 initial allocation would not finance a new development, the community could still stand to gain because unspent money goes back into the consortium’s pool. That opens the future possibility of securing a large amount of funding, she said because each community can apply to the consortium for money.

The consortium member communities will each have one vote, according to David Bachrach, East Providence’s community development coordinator. Bachrach presented the facts to the Town Council.

Federal HOME funds can go to states or go directly to big cities and to any regional bloc of local governments that meets government guidelines, he said. Recent incentives appear to favor the communities that go regional, he added.

Bachrach said HOME’s money could pay for several kinds of projects, prime examples being home repairs, first-time buyer financing and building new affordable housing units.

HUD requires communities to provide 25 percent matching funds; Section 8 money can be used.

He stressed that the consortium would be “another tool for the town to direct funds toward a particular project.”

Although the towns can still apply for federal money through Rhode Island Housing, he did note that forming the consortium could cause HUD to subtract the East Bay’s demographics from the state’s total HOME allocation.

The formula HUD uses to allocate funds town by town was “convoluted,” which he also said when asked why Jamestown only qualified for $12,000 through the consortium. By contrast, Newport qualifies for $289,000.

Joining the consortium will not cost Jamestown anything, he said. East Providence will take charge of the administration.

“The concept is very enticing,” Keiser said. He suggested that the councilors commit to the consortium for three years, evaluate the results and then decide whether or not to continue.

Keiser said, “It would be an experiment” to see if the regional approach would be “more beneficial” than past efforts.

In other business, the councilors reviewed the Fort Getty situation. Plans are underway to rebuild the John C. Remijas Memorial Pavilion, which was destroyed in a February snowstorm, and to consider the park’s future uses. White reported on a recent meeting, which some 30 people attended at the Jamestown Philomenian Library, to discuss replacing the pavilion. Bowen wanted to know the next steps. Keiser said the consultant, Landworks Collaborative of Worcester, Mass., will report to the Town Council at its first July meeting. Murphy said the Fort Getty discussion is also on the Town Council’s upcoming agenda for its June 20 meeting.

On the consent agenda, the councilors received two May cease-and-desist orders issued by the Coastal Resources Management Council against two Seaside Drive residents in regard to boat ramp construction. Richard and Pamila Haas, of 405 Seaside Drive, and John P. Somyk, of 401 Seaside Drive, were ordered to stop further construction pending a resolution with the CRMC.

Also, the councilors appointed former Conservation Committee Chairman Christopher Powell to fill a vacancy on the Water Resources Protection Committee. His term will end Dec. 31. The council also accepted the resignation of Heather Lopes from the Affordable Housing Committee with a resolution to send a letter of thanks for her service.

The councilors voted unanimously to put the landfill closure question on the Nov. 8 ballot. Voters will decide whether or not to authorize the local government to go out for bonds and notes, not to exceed $1 million, to pay for closing the former Jamestown landfill located off North Main Street.

In the Town Administrator’s Report, Keiser said he received the Sodar wind profiler’s first week of data. The data is being collected in anticipation a wind turbine that may be built at Taylor Point. So far, the wind speed measurements have registered “lower than average,” Keiser said, but more data will be collected.

Turning to the issue of the golf course building, Keiser said the structural report is expected by summer’s end.

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