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COMMENTARY

A missed opportunity to address the housing crisis in Cranston

A local activist says elected officials put potential tax revenues ahead of the needs of residents in deciding against a mixed-use residential-commercial development

All across the country, we are facing a serious housing crisis. Here in Rhode Island, people—especially low-income and working-class residents— are out of options when it comes to safe and affordable housing. A crisis before the pandemic has come to a head over the past two-plus years. In Rhode Island, state law requires that 10 percent of housing stock be long-term low or moderate-income housing (LMIH). My hometown of Cranston has only reached 5.5 percent of that mark, which falls short by nearly 1,500 homes. In fact, Cranston has failed to develop even a single new LMIH home in the last decade.

In the midst of a global pandemic, during which 48 percent of households in Cranston are cost-burdened by housing, one would hope that our local government would begin to prioritize investments in affordable and low-income housing.

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Unfortunately, our elected officials have done the opposite. Their neglect for the needs of Cranston residents was on full display at a recent Cranston City Council meeting.

For 22 years, a large plot of land (formerly a trolley barn and the home to Narragansett Brewery) has been vacant on the eastern side of Cranston. The city’s comprehensive plan recommended that the parcel be used for mixed-use residential-commercial development, noting that this was preferential to an entirely commercial development because of the city’s acute need for housing and the fact that the city is running out of potential sites to meet its housing goal. They also pointed out that this particular plot was ideal for the development of houosing because of the availability of public transportation, the walkability, and the concentration of businesses in the area.

And yet, on Jan. 24, the Cranston City Council voted 8-1 to change the zoning of the plot from manufacturing to entirely commercial, and they amended the comprehensive plan to eliminate the recommendation for mixed-use development.

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Now, instead of providing the basic need of housing to their residents, the Cranston City council will provide an additional fast-food restaurant, gas station, bank, and an AutoZone distribution warehouse. Given the limited real estate in eastern Cranston, the City Council may have just squandered a unique opportunity to prioritize increasing affordable housing over building new businesses.

Decisions like this, coming from elected officials, are the reason why so many people have lost faith in our government’s ability to put the needs of our most vulnerable first. This vote had the power to change the lives of Rhode Islanders who are living unsheltered, living in unstable housing, or living in unsafe conditions. Our elected officials have once again prioritized an increase in tax revenues over the basic needs of their constituents.

Harrison Tuttle is the executive director of Black Lives Matters Rhode Island-PAC and a candidate for the Rhode Island General Assembly.