MIDDLETOWN, R.I. (APRIL 19, 2022) – Plans for a Town led “affordable housing” project took a major step forward earlier this week.

At a meeting Monday night from Town Hall, the Town Council voted unanimously to seek master plan designs for “affordable housing” on the former Oliphant School property at 26 Oliphant Lane and Peckham School site at 650 Green End Ave.

Councilman Dennis Turano — the chairman of the Affordable Housing Committee — said those master plans would provide more details on both projects, which would need public review and approval from the Planning Board. Then, the Town would seek funding support from Rhode Island Housing at the end of the year to help pay for the projects.

And although the Town’s “affordable housing” expert said it was likely three years before any housing got underway under the best circumstances, the news was “exciting” for Middletown.

“We are ready now to move forward,” said Frank Spinella, “affordable housing” expert of FPS Associates. “The engineers and architects are ready to get their drawings done.” 

“Frank, I think you’ve done an excellent job so far with your timeliness, your promptness on responses, drawings and anything we’ve asked of you, we’ve gotten it,” council President Paul M. Rodrigues said.  

“You’ve been at meetings to answer the very difficult questions that we cannot answer. I thank you for that. These are big projects that we’ve talked about for several years now and it seems like we’re this close. As we take another step forward tonight, it just feels good that we’re taking that next step.”

Compared with some of its off Aquidneck Island neighbors, housing in Middletown has been at more of a premium here. However, over the past decade plus as demand has spiked, the issue of “affordable housing” has evolved into even more of an issue.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, affordable housing is “generally defined as housing on which the occupant is paying no more than 30 percent of gross income for housing costs, including utilities..

The “2021 Housing Fact Book” from Housing Works Rhode Island indicated that close to 5.2 percent of all the housing in Middletown is classified as “affordable.” In order to meet Rhode Island’s 10 percent threshold for “affordable housing,” the Fact Book said the Town would need to add more than 330 units of low- and moderate-income housing. 

Rhode Island Housing data showed the average price for a two-bedroom apartment in Middletown including utilities was $1,724 in 2021. That’s up $279 from 2016, when the average price for the same unit was $1,446.

Currently in Middletown, there are about 500 units of new housing already okayed or seeking approval to move forward. Of those, about 200 are projected to be classified “affordable” or “workforce” housing.

No firm number of “affordable” units was set as a result of Monday’s council vote. Town officials said all those details and more would be flushed out during the master plan design process. 

Previously, Spinella said there could be 38-40 units in the Oliphant “Plan B” proposal that was endorsed by the council Monday night. That included a “townhouse” design and reuse of the current Oliphant school administration offices. If needed, Town officials said the school offices could be relocated elsewhere in Town.

As for the Peckham School site immediately next door to the Middletown Senior Center, Spinella has previously said 18 to 22 units could be placed on the existing footprint of the former school. The site was last in active use in 2013 by the Head Start program. Since then, the building host hosted multiple movie production companies filming locally, but is largely used for storage now.

Turano said residents and others with concerns and questions about the Oliphant and Peckham locations would have a chance to air their feedback before the Planning Board during public meetings on the Town’s master plan designs. During a session earlier this month on the Oliphant site, Turano said traffic and stormwater runoff were the main items cited by those who live nearby.

“We had a very good meeting on April 5,” Turano said, thanking Spinella and Town Administrator Shawn J. Brown for their work. “I want to thank the subcommittee as well. It was well attended and we had all our members there and we probably had 30 residents at the meeting asking questions. It was well advertised.”