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July 2010 | Volume 9 Issue 4   


Sustainable Affordable Housing Projects Win HUD Secretary Award
Expedited Affordable Housing Permitting in Rhode Island has First Success

Expedited Affordable Housing Permitting in Rhode Island has First Success

Next year developers plan to break ground on a 132-unit ocean-side development in Narragansett, Rhode Island. Known as De La Salle at Black Point, it will be the first tangible evidence of the state's new authority to speed approval of critically needed affordable housing projects. De La Salle at Black Point was first proposed to the Narragansett Planning Board in May 2008. The Brothers of the Christian Schools, an educational ministry, wanted to use 60 of the 105 acres of prime real estate in Narragansett, where it operated a school, to build condominiums and apartments. They planned to set aside 90 of the 132 units as affordable housing. Of those, 10 would be workforce housing that would be sold at affordable rates to specific career populations like teachers, firemen, and others unable to afford homes in Narragansett. The remaining units would be rented to senior citizens.

Two years later, De La Salle at Black Point cleared what its developers say was the major hurdle for the project — a wetlands permit from the state's/Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM). Before it gets the green light for construction, approval for a curb-cut permit from Narragansett must be obtained.

Expedited Permitting Makes the Difference

A rendering of De La Salle at Black Point in Narragansett, Rhode Island. Rendering by O’Hearne Associates De La Salle at Black Point benefits from a 2009 law, the Expedited Permitting for Affordable Housing Act, which gives state permitting agencies strict deadlines for making their decisions. The law applies to projects that have advanced to the stage where there has been an application for funding that promotes smart growth principles such as proximity to transportation, compact development, and historic preservation. The proposed projects must also be large enough to make a sizeable impact on the supply of affordable housing in the communities where they are to be built.

Regulations developed by the Rhode Island Housing Resources Commission, which administers the law, require that the project help the local community make substantial progress toward meeting the goals of the Comprehensive Housing Production and Rehabilitation Act of 2004. The Act required the 29 Rhode Island communities identified for having inadequate affordable housing, to develop plans for setting aside 10 percent of their total housing stock affordable for low- and moderate-income households. If a project addresses critical housing needs, developers may apply to the Housing Resources Commission for consideration as a "project of critical concern" to receive expedited permitting. To qualify, a project must work to meet or exceed the surrounding community's 10-percent goal, and satisfy all of the criteria outlined in the regulations.

A Proactive Push Forward

Noreen Shawcross, the Housing Resource Commission's former executive director, believes that the law works if only certain affordable housing proposals receive priority treatment. "We hope that when an agency receives a certificate of critical concern from us, it will go to the top of the pile. It would be a development that would have a significant impact on that community and that community's goal of affordable housing."

De La Salle at Black Point received its certificate of critical concern in December 2009 the first, and so far only, project to qualify. Once the commission issued its certificate, DEM and other state permitting agencies with jurisdiction had 30 days to review the proposal and issue a decision. De La Salle received its approval from DEM the most critical in the process in March 2010. "The process the state set up was extraordinary," said Dennis Maloney, De La Salle at Black Point's senior project executive, "it saved us nine months to a year." That kind of savings leads Maloney to predict that other Rhode Island developers will have an added incentive to build affordable housing.


Rhode Island's still-new Expedited Permitting for Affordable Housing law helped a large affordable housing proposal receive a quick review. As a result, De La Salle at Black Point, a critically needed affordable housing development for Narragansett, is on schedule to receive its first new occupants as much as a year earlier than developers had expected.


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