PROVIDENCE — Last week the Republican Policy Group, chaired by local Representative Sherry Roberts (R-District 29 Coventry, West Greenwich), announced their intent to introduce several bills on the House floor in response to Rhode Island Rising, the economic development plan introduced as part of Rhode Map RI in December 2014.
The plan was prepared as part of a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Roberts has said that the agency “has its own agenda, which does not benefit Rhode Island at all.” Because of this, the RPG, which includes Vice Chair, Representative Justin Price (R-District 39 Richmond, Exeter, Hopkinton), has made it their goal to educate local municipalities on how they will be affected while introducing legislation to combat what they call “the damage of Rhode Island Rising” to “protect the most vulnerable of our society.”
According to the RI Division of Planning, Rhode Island Rising is intended to serve as a guidance document for state agencies and municipalities. The goal of the planning grant specifically is to “help communities and regions foster a more sustainable economy” through coordinated planning and investment in areas like housing, job creation, workforce training and transportation.
Members fear that because of accountability mandates, failure to meet HUD’s measures will lead to the agency withholding money based on certain conditions being met, which they attribute to HUD’s desire to meet statistics in each community census.
“A shrinking middle class and uneven wage growth, coupled with wide racial gaps in income, health, and opportunity, require that the State adopt new strategies for growing good jobs, connecting unemployed and low-wage workers to job training and career opportunities, and increasing access to economic opportunity for all,” reads the document’s executive summary.
“It states and wants to use the inequalities from Rhode Map RI to redistribute from differences in unemployment and education to a scarcity of affordable housing in parts of the state,” Roberts said, adding that the state should focus on increasing access to economic opportunity.
Among the legislation they intend to introduce is a bill that would change the way affordable housing is defined, amending it to include permanently fixated mobile homes and to not require government money.
“If we are able to change the definition, then more towns will be following the laws set out by the state guidelines and score higher on their ‘report card’,” Roberts said.
Another bill would require that all land acquired through eminent domain be offered back to the original owner (or heir) at fair market value after 20 years if it is not used “for a purpose of public benefit.” An exception would be land to be used for open space or farmland.
In a statement, RPG member Bob Quattrocchi (R-District 41 Scituate, Cranston) said Rhode Island Rising was “created by a panel of non-elected bureaucrats, touted as an economic development plan.” He called it “a social engineering plan designed to eliminate local self-governing and undermine property rights.”
“It is a plan to make single family home ownership unaffordable, thus driving people toward high density, so called ‘growth centers’,” he said. “This goes against everything that our country was built on and the success we’ve enjoyed as a nation.”
A third bill would require that the General Assembly approve construction projects over 2,000 square feet and with a cost of more than $250,000 that involve affordable housing. This would also include residential developments for land already owned by the state. The RPG believes this will allow for the public to be informed of what the state intends to do with tax funds.
The RPG also warns cities and towns to be wary of Community Building and Development Grants (CBDG) which can lead to less control for local officials in an attempt to carry out a more “fair” statistical set up.
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