The housing shortage is commonly accepted by public officials in Middletown as one of the most urgent to address, as balancing quality of life, maintaining open space and adequate housing stock has been a formidable challenge.
These concerns were again highlighted during a briefing by the city’s Affordable Housing Committee on April 5, which sought comments on a proposal to build a residential apartment complex on a land currently occupied by the school department administration building at the corner of Oliphant Lane and West Main Road.
There are currently half a dozen housing development proposals in various stages of approval in Middletown, including around 500 potential new residential units. City officials say about 200 will be designated as “affordable housing,” setting rents subject to deed conditions in exchange for developer tax credits provided by the state and federal government.
“We need to fix this,” said Dennis Turano, chairman of the Affordable Housing Committee, adding that even after developments are approved, they rarely get started for three to four years, a fact that offers modicum of comfort to those currently struggling to find affordable housing.
“That’s how late we are,” he said.
The so-called “concept review” was led by housing consultant Frank Spinella, who contracted with the city to advise on the myriad of state and federal regulations on housing development and credit programs. taxes designed to increase the housing stock. Spinella said the Oliphant administration building could be converted into 17 mostly one-bedroom units, while the current baseball field could have up to four separate buildings, adding another 30 to 40 units. In total, Spinella said the site could hold up to 74 units.
If development goes ahead, concepts under discussion include the relocation of administrative offices. The committee also considered the possibility of converting the historic Oliphant School building off West Main Road, commonly known as ‘Little Oliphant’, although this option is on hold for further study.
About 20 residents attended the meeting, which was held in the Community Hall inside the Middletown Fire Hall, with many raising concerns about the multiple housing developments currently in the process of approval. These concerns go hand in hand with the pushback often cited by surrounding residents worried about the impact of additional traffic congestion and effects on stormwater drainage, as well as whether these various developments will provide units for struggling residents or will instead be occupied by tenants looking to move to Aquidneck. Isle.
Spinella said that while federal fair housing laws prevent denial of applications based on previous residency, the city can target the marketing campaign locally, as well as implement a points system that benefits local residents.
Middletown remains one of several Rhode Island communities still well below the 10% affordable housing threshold mandated by state law. According to statistics from Rhode Island Housing, the average price for a two-bedroom apartment in Middletown, including utilities, was $1,724 in 2021.
“We have a long way to go [to meet the mandate]”said Spinella.
The committee narrowed the scope of potential designs to a townhouse format or traditional apartment buildings, voting unanimously at the previous meeting to issue a positive recommendation for the townhouse option. The committee reiterated its support for this option at the April 5 meeting. The proposal will now be sent for review by the city council before undergoing the planning board verification process, including public hearings on more detailed architectural and technical plans.
A timeline provided by Spinella to city administrator Shawn Brown said that to obtain tax credit funding in the current cycle, the project would need master plan approval from the Planning Board in May, followed by preliminary approval in September and final approval in November.
Spinella said the low-income tax credit program is very competitive, with only about a quarter of applications generally approved by Rhode Island Housing each year.
Responding to residents’ concerns that, with the many new housing proposals being debated, the city might be moving too far too fast, Spinella succinctly answered the reasoning behind the push.
“In 10 years, we have done nothing [to address the issue],” he said.
The housing commission will meet on April 26.