Stonington, CT — While most polls show that Americans strongly favor providing safe and affordable housing for all citizens, sometimes, when that prospect is in your neighborhood, opinions change.

Take the case of Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns and a state “mandate” that each city and town strive to assure that at least 10 percent of the city or town’s housing is affordable. Even though the “mandate” has been around for years, only six Rhode Island communities have reached that critical threshold.

And in nearby Stonington, Connecticut where a developer planned to turn an old mill site into an 82-unit mixed rent housing complex, voters reversed a funding plan that would have virtually guaranteed construction.

The project had support from both the current First Selectman, Danielle Chesebrough, a Democrat and the past First Selectman, Rob Simmons, a Republican. First Selectman is equivalent to a fulltime mayor. 

The Board of Selectmen had approved the plan by WinnCompanies, the developer, to pay nearly $700,000 in taxes over 10 years, half of what the full tax bill would bring. However, under the current conditions, the former Campbell Grain property, which has been vacant for a decade, would bring $30,000 in taxes to the town over 10 years, according to town officials.

WinnCompanies had maintained that the tax credit would result in $20 million in state resources. The company, on its website, said failure to approve the tax credit make the state funds “unavailable, making it impossible to proceed with the redevelopment.”

After a town meeting in August affirmed the Selectmen’s approval of the tax plan, many in the community mounted a petition drive to overturn that vote, forcing a referendum a couple of weeks ago. That referendum asked voters to overturn the town meeting’s vote. Thus, a yes vote was voting no to the tax credit.

On the Stonington neighborhood Facebook group, there was considerable opposition to the tax plan, but also great concern that the project would create traffic problems. A WinnCompanies traffic survey said the project would not significantly impact traffic flow.

Asked if it was all about the tax issue, Chesebrough said there is a lot of misunderstanding about affordable housing, but also noted that opponents were concerned about traffic issues..

In the weeks leading up to the vote, Chesebrough, Simmons and others argued that by bringing affordable housing to the Pawcatuck neighborhood, it would provide housing opportunities for younger workers, or those in essential but not high paying jobs. It would also, they said, give seniors an opportunity to remain in their community as their incomes declined.

According to WinnCompanies, the project would include eighty-two mixed apartments, all similar, but rents based on income. A quarter of the apartments were listed at “market rent,” estimated at $1,800 for a two-bedroom apartment for those with incomes exceeding $75,000; another 15 percent were earmarked for those with incomes between $46,200 and $73,920 at $1,600 for a two-bedroom apartment; 40 percent were earmarked for those with incomes from $27,720 to $46,200, with rents at $1,000 for a two-bedroom apartment; and 20 percent were reserved for those with incomes below $27,720, with rents estimated at $700.

Frank Prosnitz

Frank Prosnitz brings to WhatsUpNewp several years in journalism, including 10 as editor of the Providence (RI) Business News and 14 years as a reporter and bureau manager at the Providence (RI) Journal....