SOUTH KINGSTOWN—The town council voted during its meeting Monday to use a portion of the money in its affordable housing trust fund for consulting services to make amendments to the town’s zoning ordinance to better address the need for affordable housing.

The town council voted as part of its capital improvement plan last year to allocate $100,000 to an affordable housing trust fund to be used partially to “permit the engagement of consulting services to conduct a comprehensive analysis of affordable housing needs in the community,” in order to “outline potential policy and programmatic directions to consider that may better align our efforts concerning affordable housing in South Kingstown.” 

But after a request for proposals (RFP) sent out last fall yielded no responses, Barbara Fields, executive director of Rhode Island Housing, visited the town to discuss the need for an additional housing supply to meet an imminent demand. 

“She basically reiterated something that I think we all already know—that there’s a shortage of housing, in general, in Rhode Island,” planning director Chelsea Siefert said. “Our demand is increasing and we’re not creating enough housing to house the anticipated population over the next 20 to 30 years.”

On top of a general housing shortage in the state, affordable housing is also scarce.   

“And the needs of our population throughout the state and in South County are changing,” Siefert continued. “We know that the millennial and elderly populations are growing at alarming rates and they would prefer smaller units—one bedroom or two in town where they have easy access to services.”

But that’s not the type of housing being built in either South Kingstown or the state as a whole. 

To address that, the affordable housing collaborative (AHC) and planning board discussed during a joint session last month the possibility of using a portion of the $100,000 set aside for affordable housing toward hiring a consultant service to update the town’s zoning ordinance.

“Both to look at our inclusionary zoning provisions,” Siefert said, “and to see where we could allow more multi-household development in town where it would make sense and what it should look like and act like.”

Siefert said the town would also like to receive architectural and site-design guidelines.

She said that although it’s difficult to determine at this point what that study will cost, it could fall into the $30,000 to $60,000 range—that would depend largely on the depth of the study.

“I really want it to look at every aspect of our code and be as innovative as possible,” Siefert said. 

“I think this is a great alternative use for the money that we earmarked for affordable housing,” town council vice president Abel Collins said. 

Town councilors Liz Gledhill and Bryant Da Cruz echoed that, with Da Cruz adding that the study is “long overdue.”

And Siefert said she doesn’t anticipate another problem getting RFP responses.

“There are definitely consultants in Rhode Island that do this work,” she said. “I think we will definitely get some responses, I think people will be excited about this work—no one else is really doing this in Rhode Island.”

Siefert added she would like to see the study be village-specific. 

“So what does it look like in Wakefield, versus Peace Dale, versus Kingston,” she said. “I think that aspect of it will draw some interest.”

Town councilors approved the resolution unanimously.

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