The city is thinking about affordable housing

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The April 4 meeting of New Shoreham City Council began, as meetings so often do, with public comments. Alicia Martin of the ad hoc group Block Island Affordable and Atainable Housing spoke to council about the continued shortage of quality affordable housing on the island and the need to fund housing development. Martin suggested that one funding opportunity might be to use some of the money currently allocated
to the Block Island Land Trust for affordable housing.

The Land Trust receives a three percent commission from all real estate sales on Block Island, which it uses to purchase and hold land. The enabling legislation allows fees of up to five per cent, although the Land Trust has kept the fee at three per cent. In 2021, the land trust collected $2,916,581 in real estate transfer fees. In contrast, the Block Island Housing Board, which is working to build affordable housing on Block Island, received just over $100,000 for 2021. The Housing Board is funded by a 1% levy on rental fees at short term, excluding hotels and hostels. .

As Block Island grapples with the shortage of affordable housing, there have been several suggestions for ways to get more money for the Housing Council. Currently, the housing commission is working on building eight to ten year-round rental apartments on its West Side Road property, opposite Ball O’Brien Park. The cost of the project is estimated at more than $3 million, an amount that the Housing Commission does not currently have.

Meanwhile, this year the Land Trust was able to pay $3.645 million in cash for most of its share of the purchase of the Overlook property, which borders Ball O’Brien Park. (The Land Trust funded an additional $1.5 million for the Overlook, and the city funded its share of the $8.745 million).
lion price.) According to a statement provided to City Council in January, the Land Trust will still have about $3.5 million in cash after the
Neglect the purchase.
First Warden André Boudreau asked the other members of council if they wanted to have a discussion about the embezzlement of land trust funds for housing.
Council member Mark Emmanuelle said ‘conservation groups want to have it’.

Council member Keith Stover said he thought the affordable housing movement had “momentum” but was not personally convinced that using the property transfer tax was the right one way to fund it. He said it could cause a fight between conservation groups and affordable prices
housing advocates who are “shaking up the affordable housing movement”.

Second Director Sven Risom suggested that instead of participating in the Land Trust’s three per cent, the city could use a new two per cent levy which is not currently collected and allocate it to affordable housing. In this way, Risom suggested, it would be separate from the Land Trust,
“not taking it from them”, which could avoid the fight.

Another option to provide more affordable housing that has been discussed is Section 513 secondary suites. Section 513 of the zoning ordinances permits the construction of a secondary dwelling on a property if the property is used as a year-round rental dwelling. There are several other stipulations such as the size of the unit, and the confusing language of the ordinance is under review by the Planning Board, but overall the section has been used to create over 50 year-round rental units on the island. since its inception over 20 years ago. The expansion of the Section 513 program was one of the main points of attention in City Council’s discussions on affordable housing.
City Manager Maryanne Crawford told council on April 4 that she and her staff were working to create a survey to quantify the real need for housing on the island. The Block Island Affordable and Atainable Housing group conducted a similar survey and quantified the need for around 160 people, although it was not clear if any of these people might be in the same households, nor was it clear if some of these people might actually have housing and just need cheaper, more affordable housing. Crawford also suggested that a direct mail could be sent to homeowners outlining the Section 513 program and asking if those homeowners might want to participate.
Stover said he thought the idea was to make changes to the ordinance to make it more appealing to landlords. Currently, tax relief is available if a landlord makes the apartment “affordable”, but the conditions for receiving the tax relief and the interruption penalty
the use is so onerous that it prevents anyone from claiming the tax relief. So far, no landowner has applied for tax relief for their Section 513 apartments.

Stover said he’s concerned the city is “questioning (owners) about a program that we know we need to modernize.”
Risom agreed the program needs to be “modernized,” suggesting it would be helpful to uncover the “barriers” that prevent landlords from building a Section 513 apartment on their property.
One participant quietly suggested Block Island time that the apartments in Section 513 could be compared to modern servants’ quarters, and not everyone was eager to build one on their property to house foreigners in financial difficulty year-round. It has also been suggested that the
those who struggle to live year-round might not be too keen on living in the servants’ quarters above someone’s garage either.
As Boudreau expressed to the rest of the board at the end of the conversation, “(article) 513 is a rabbit hole.”

Crawford told council she would move forward with the survey to quantify the need for affordable housing on the island.

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