By BRANDON POTTER and JOHN DONEGAN The proposed retail development on the former site of the Narragansett Brewery recently brought many Cranston officials out to tour the location. The plan includes an AutoZone, fast-food restaurant, a retail shopping
The proposed retail development on the former site of the Narragansett Brewery recently brought many Cranston officials out to tour the location. The plan includes an AutoZone, fast-food restaurant, a retail shopping center, and a bank. But as our city considers its potential impact on the area, we cannot ignore the urgent need for affordable housing, and our obligation to it.
An empty lot might otherwise not be such a reminder of our state’s housing crisis. But right next to this piece of land, many people sleep underneath a highway overpass. We’d be hard-pressed to find a more vivid depiction of the disconnect between our priorities and the needs of the most vulnerable among us.
Sadly, our housing crisis is something all too many people are familiar with. This year, the General Assembly created a permanent funding stream for affordable housing, ended source of income discrimination, and is likely to prioritize a substantial amount of American Rescue Plan Act money toward housing. But regardless of the money allocated, meeting our affordable housing needs will take all 39 cities and towns playing their role.
Under Rhode Island state law, every municipality is required to allocate 10% of their housing stock to low and moderate income housing. Unfortunately, according to the HousingWorks RI 2021 Fact Book, very few are meeting that requirement. Although some cities and towns are close to reaching 10%, many are far behind. Our home, Cranston, falls short by over 1,500 units total, and only meets 5.1% of the requirement. If every city and town simply met this mark, it would account for more than an additional 12,500 units across our state, and be a huge step in solving our state’s housing crisis.
Developing new units designated for low and moderate income housing will not only help us address homelessness with compassion, it will help alleviate the strains which exist within our housing market. Unfortunately, the stigma attached to low and moderate income housing often fuels much of the resistance to housing development projects. But taking that into consideration, if a location like this – a parcel of land abutting an old railroad track on one side, a highway and railroad track on the other, across from a police station, and on the city’s border to Providence – is not a location we identify and prioritize as a site for affordable housing, then where is?
It’s incumbent on the leadership of every city and town to task their planning departments with developing comprehensive strategies to meet their legal housing obligations. Cranston is in the process of renewing our Comprehensive Plan, and we must prioritize housing development in the years to come. And if cities and towns don’t quickly demonstrate they have a serious approach to building affordable housing, it may be time for the General Assembly to consider legislation that really requires them to.
Proposed developments are a good sign to see as we rebuild our economy, but while as many as 500 people sleep on the streets of Rhode Island every night, are banks, gas stations, and fast food restaurants what we need more of? On a side note, Census Tract 141, where this project is proposed, already has higher levels of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity than we see in the rest of the city. We should prioritize increasing access to healthier foods, not more fast food chains.
And at a time when so many have been devastated by the impact of COVID-19, we need to prioritize getting people back on their feet by building bridges – not turning our eyes away from the people who are sleeping under them.
Rep. Brandon Potter is a Democrat representing District 16 in Cranston. John Donegan is a Democrat representing Ward 3 on the Cranston City Council, and he serves as the council’s minority leader.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here