Housing Advocates on Why More Development Is Needed 

by | Jul 18, 2023

Above: A rendering of what the proposed 410-unit neighborhood off Division Road would look like.

Including ones like the plan for 410 units on Division Road

While some in East Greenwich have expressed dismay over the proposed 410-unit “Division Road Neighborhood” – saying it’s too big and citing concerns about traffic, the environment and stress on town services and schools – housing advocates take a very different view. They argue the need for housing is so great that all types of housing are needed, including the type of development planned for the north-western corner of East Greenwich, a mix of single family houses, duplexes, small apartment buildings and larger apartment buildings.  

Instead of the 2-acre zoning prevalent in much of that area, the Division Road project would be much more densely populated – think downtown East Greenwich. That’s good, according to HousingWorksRI Director Brenda Clement (HousingWorksRI is a research institute at Roger Williams University). 

“It’s a good thing for a bunch of reasons,” she said in a recent interview. “It’s a better use of land and space. And it generally meets many more environmental goals,” like fewer roads and a more compact sewer system. 

Former EG Affordable Housing Chair Susan Aitcheson said cluster-type developments also allow for more communal open space. 

There are other benefits of denser developments, said Clement.

“In particular, these kinds of community developments are even more critical as people want to age in their community,” she said, referring to easier home maintenance and more social interaction possibilities.

Clement said zoning restrictions – i.e. exclusionary zoning – throughout the state have made it nearly impossible to create the sorts of communities many consider iconic in Rhode Island, including Pawtuxet Village and Wickford, as well as downtown East Greenwich. She said 88 percent of Rhode Island is zoned for single-family houses. Using the comprehensive permit process, a developer can bypass zoning restrictions and build what Clement called “smarter, denser development.”

Rhode Island in general has been slow to increase residential development, relying mostly on federal dollars for affordable and low-income housing. Alternatively, Massachusetts spends about $100 per capita on housing; Connecticut spends $90 per capita; Rhode Island spends about $20 per capita. According to the just-released report from the state Dept. of Housing (Homes Report), 30 percent of EG residents pay more than 30 percent of their net income on rent and utilities.  

“We’re in a crisis. We all need to step up here,” Clement said. “Ignoring the problem isn’t going to make it go away.” 

Aitcheson said the resistance to new housing crosses political lines, noting that even Republican-led Montana recently passed a raft of housing legislation to make building more housing easier.

Some have argued the Division Road project would not help East Greenwich reach the state’s mandated 10 percent goal for all communities since it will increase the overall stock of residential units by 410 units. That is not accurate. In 2022, East Greenwich had 5,068 total units of housing, 303 of those considered “affordable” – 5.67 percent. Adding 410 more units to the overall total and 100 more units to the affordable total would boost the town’s percentage of affordable units to 7.3 percent. (Editor’s note: Affordable units are not counted until they are completed and the build out on a project like this could take many years.)

Reaching 10 percent affordable would provide more affordable housing in East Greenwich – which is the point, of course – but it would also give the town more control over future development. Until EG reaches that 10 percent, the state will most likely support developers who offer affordable units, not communities that want to deny those applications.

Clement said legitimate areas of concern – environmental or parking or traffic, for instance – need to be addressed. And she said, “The state needs to step up to help provide resources to communities to do this kind of planning, particularly smaller communities.”

Most communities in the state have seen their population of school-age children decrease while East Greenwich has seen a modest increase and some fear an influx of more children into the school system.

“Children become toxic when we’re talking about building,” Clement said. “There is a bonus in the state law – if communities see an increase in cost because of affordable housing the community’s state aid [for education] would increase.”

There’s also an overall economic development argument to be made for increased housing, according to both Clement and Aitcheson. 

“We need to grow the housing opportunities for people in Rhode Island,” said Aitcheson. “Jobs won’t come here if there’s no housing. A new company coming in – it won’t come if there’s no place for people to live. That’s one of the biggest barriers.”

“We know that workers and companies always look at the cost of living,” said Clement. “Can their workers live there, what’s the commute? What’s the cost of housing?”

It comes down to the basics, she said, and that means providing much-needed housing.  

“We envision a community where all communities embrace more options … so that everybody has a safe and affordable place to live.”

Find all our previous stories about the Division Road project HERE.
Also, find RI Housing’s report on EG’s affordable units (2022.07.12 East Greenwich Municipal Sheet) and the statewide tally (2022.07.20 Short Form Chart).

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Bob D
Bob D
July 19, 2023 8:44 am

Just more liberal jibberish. This is what happens when you let politicians dream up fairytale fanticies of how people should live. These politicians and unelected government employees push their agendas (public policies) down the throats of citizens who don’t want their communities controlled from outsiders who don’t live here. This is the opposite of Federalism, where the larger government controls how local government has to act. Where are our local politicains and State reps pushing back on this nonsense. This could overwhelm our community to what puropse and end, and who is going to pay for all of this…OH yeah the local taxpayers! This is a bad idea for a msall community like EG! Common sense has gone down the drain!

July 19, 2023 9:43 am

I have a question that requires a response from someone with a more informed perspective. As the Town considers development projects and the project is approved and built with the understanding that a number of “affordable” units designated – what happens if the “affordable” units are not sold? Is the developer required to leave the units vacant until a qualified buyer is found? If not, would this this give the developer an advantage to just leave the unit vacant and sell the unit at a higher price? Is there ever a report card published to show just exactly how many of the “affordable” units that the project was approved to contain actually are sold as “affordable?”

The “unchecked” development in East Greenwich continues and the character of the Town is the victim. Finally, the lack of any discussion on infrstructure, schools and community resources within the context of development makes no sense. Affordable and available housing are critical issues that required more than checking the box to make the State happy.

July 21, 2023 3:41 pm

Thank you!

Excellent information and for contributing to my education about a subject that I do not fully understand. Perhaps others will find this response of interest.

Siobhan Sullivan
Siobhan Sullivan
July 19, 2023 10:20 am

Think for a moment what the expert cited says about better housing……”Instead of the 2-acre zoning prevalent in much of that area, the Division Road project would be much more densely populated – think downtown East Greenwich. That’s good, according to HousingWorksRI Director Brenda Clement (HousingWorksRI is a research institute at Roger Williams University).” Yes, it is good IN downtown East Greenwich or Wickford or Westerly. Density is great where there are amenities for the whole of the community such as schools to walk to, cafes to get a coffee, shops to patronize. A gigantic pod of homes in the woods doesn’t allow for anything like that. The traffic created will be terrible (if you want a visual look at mammoth new overpass of Rt 4. What an eyesore. Consider the new apartments near the Ocean State Vets on S County Trail. Residents there can conceivably walk to Daves, Paneras. Zoning changes are needed in EG but there are much more organic solutions that won’t cause the seismic problems Division Rd will.

Eleanor Doumato
Eleanor Doumato
July 22, 2023 2:41 pm

I want to thank Siobhan Sullivan for her letter of July 19, pointing out a fallacy in HousingWorksRI’s argument that density is a good thing. Density according to the Division Road proposal means that each of the affordable units is allocated only one parking space. Yet we know that any units housing two adults will likely need parking for two cars: on Division Road there is no public transportation available nor are there any amenities such as doctors’ offices, schools, shopping, libraries or public parks in walking distance. Furthermore, with the majority of RI working age women in the labor force, 60.6%, for most families a second car would be a necessity even to get to the closest park and ride.
I agree with HousingWorksRI in their concern about parking and traffic. That extra 100-150 cars from units without sufficient allocated parking means the roadways within the project will be permanently lined with parked cars, which is both dangerous and unsightly. My solution is to scale back the project. If we really want to see housing that’s affordable as well as safe, and we really think a project crammed into the edge of US95 is the place to do it, then the proposed 202 individual housing units ought to be cut in half to accommodate the excess cars. It would also go a long way toward mitigating traffic concerns on Division Road.

July 26, 2023 1:09 pm

Yup, I don’t understand how they came up with the cars per household on this project when in RI the avg is 2.1, and as you said their is absolutely no public transportation nearby.

Mathias Wilkinson
Mathias Wilkinson
July 19, 2023 2:54 pm

Instead of just saying there is a need for affordable housing I would like to see someone address the root causes of the problem.

July 21, 2023 7:41 am

Like any state , Rhode Island has towns and areas which have the highest real estate values . These are the most desirable locations. Many people work hard and save/earn the ability to afford real estate in these places . Mandating the these locations give away 10% of their house at below market value is socialism and takes the desire to work towards this goal away. When I was younger I did not drive through the more expensive neighborhoods of Rhode Island and say I had a right to live there now. I said I hope that over time I could live in such a nice place. Truth is there is affordable housing, it’s just not in the most desirable locations. People need to understand that that’s just life . You live wear you can afford to live and work to live somewhere better if you’re not happy there.

July 21, 2023 2:46 pm

No one asked that anyone that moved into East Greenwich in the last 30 years decide to plant their flag in this community. It was your choice. It’s not socialism matter of fact it is capitalism. And yes all did have a right to live anywhere if one could afford it, capitalism. This isn’t the West Bank.

Socialism is the country’s industries with which have no private ownership. Ownership is by a centralized gov’t.

Capitalism is an economic and political system in which property, business, and industry are owned by private individuals and not by the state.

Some don’t want to be burdened with the decrease in value of his/her property due to their perceived understanding of what they call socialism. I think as it has been made evidentially clear and not conjecture East Greenwich is the richest municipality in Rhode Island. So I find capitalism to be the underlying cause regarding this project and throughout East Greenwich. The fact that people cannot afford to live in EG because of highly priced property is called capitalism. Same as those things called gated communities.
If you can’t breed them out price them out. Is that a bingo?

It’s really funny how freely the use of liberalization, socialism have become meaningless talking points with some who have no actual knowledge of the meaning.

Mao was a true socialist. His socialistic policies accounted for the death of over 45,000,000 people. However:

Although this project is totally egregious this community is totally unprepared for the scope of its size. Out of the 39 or so communities/municipalities in Rhode Island 6 or so have met the criteria. I would think coordination/contact with those municipalities that have met this criteria beneficial.

Even when there are funds available for more housing, finding the right place to build it is still a challenge.

I wonder if the USACE can do an actual study of the total impact on the community and surrounding communities/municipalities as they did on the Big River Reservoir Project? I am unsure as Route 401 is a state highway. Is there a way for them to worm themselves into the a consequence regretted by a majority???? The intersection of South County Trail and Route 401 will not be the only area effected by traffic/congestion. But it’s above my pay grade.

Also an ad valorem tax can be applied by the County as in Kent for what many see as an overzealous developer. It’s why I don’t think enough research into this matter has been explored. But even so this will not solve the problem but could lesson the burden on what will be needed to support such a “capitalistic“ project.

Peter Carney
Peter Carney
July 21, 2023 10:25 pm

If this development is completed as proposed, and EG did ANOTHER development identical in scope (410 more units with 25% affordable), it would still leave EG below the 10% state mandate. It’s absurd what is necessary for EG to meet that metric and EG residents will have basically no say in further development until the 10% is met.

July 22, 2023 8:38 am

Isn’t there an affordable development going in on frenchtown road by wildwood nursery?


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