Housing Board gets help from upstate

Fri, 09/09/2022 - 3:00pm

As the town struggles with a need for more affordable and “attainable” housing, the Block Island Housing Board got a much-needed boost from the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank last month.
New Shoreham is one of four Rhode Island towns to receive Municipal Infrastructure Grant Program funds. Block Island’s grant, submitted in an application by Town Planner Alison Ring, is for “work force housing units on Block Island, addressing the critical issue of housing availability and affordability. The project will help maintain a year-round workforce and strong local economy.” The grant is in the amount of $250,000. It requires matching funds of 25 percent, which, Town Manager Maryanne Crawford told The Block Island Times, will come out of the Housing Board’s own funds.
The grant will go towards the housing project envisioned for the Ball O’Brien property across from the park of the same name. The Housing Board’s usual model is to produce affordable and or attainable housing units for ownership. Its last project was five homes in the development called Cherry Hill. Financially, the Housing Board is able to build these projects by securing construction loans that are then paid off from the proceeds of the
home sales.
However, there is a real need for rental housing, which presents a greater financial challenge to build as there are no sales proceeds available to pay off the short-term construction lending.
Housing Board Chair Cindy Pappas told The Times that currently the board is envisioning a blended project of six homes for sale and 10 rental units. The rental units will include three one-bedroom units, five two-bedroom units, and two three-bedroom units. They have been working with architect Barbara Bestor, who has volunteered her services, on possible designs.
The R.I. Infrastructure Bank grant will go towards grading, road work, utility installation “and the like,” says Pappas. “Our intention is to make this development as energy-efficient and ‘green’ as we can possibly afford. To that end, we have had the interest and support of a private benefactor who has pledged to underwrite solar panels, heat pumps and hopefully, energy efficient appliances. This is an ongoing discussion.”
The Housing Board has also engaged the services of Barbara Sokoloff and Associates to assist in obtaining additional funding from other sources. “[Sokoloff] has much expertise in all of the funding sources, their rules and regs, and the type of developments that the funding sources will readily endorse. Having completed many affordable projects in the state, her knowledge, insight and guidance is already reaping benefits to our project,” says Pappas.
Separately, R.I. Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos told The Times during a recent visit to Block Island that this year’s state budget has allocated $250 million for new affordable housing in Rhode Island.
Crawford said of the infrastructure grant: “We’re really pleased to see that come through.”
Other towns that received grants were Burrillville, Central Falls, and Glocester. Funds for Central Falls will also be used for housing (47 affordable units) while money going to Burrillville and Glocester will go towards sewer and water infrastructure projects.
Per their press release: “Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank is Rhode Island’s central hub for financing infrastructure improvements for municipalities, businesses, and homeowners. We leverage capital in a revolving fund to offer innovative financing for an array of infrastructure-based projects including water and wastewater, road and bridge, energy efficiency and renewable energy, and brownfield remediation. These quality-of-life projects improve the State’s infrastructure, create jobs, promote economic development, and enhance the environment.”