PROVIDENCE — With lawmakers on both sides of the aisle opposed to a proposal that would have allowed the state housing secretary to take a property though eminent domain, Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi said, “it’s off the table.”
Progressive Democrats as well as conservative Republicans said Governor Daniel J. McKee’s proposed amendments to the 2024 state budget that would have allowed Housing Secretary Stefan Pryor to seize property for any reason would have given the state too much power.
“There’s no eminent domain in the housing budget,” said Shekarchi during a news conference on Friday night regarding the House Finance Committee budget package. “No special powers for eminent domain.”
In a letter obtained by the Globe, Pryor wrote to House Finance Committee Chairman Marvin L. Abney that the department “does not believe that such authority needs to be expressly codified.”
“Therefore it can be removed from the proposed legislation if you agree,” wrote Pryor in the letter.
Lawmakers from both parties recently voiced opposition over a proposal that would allow @stefanpryor to take a property though eminent domain. Tonight, @JoeShekarchi confirmed that this was taken out of the budget.— Alexa Gagosz (@AlexaGagosz) June 3, 2023
Here's a letter Pryor sent Chairman Abney just yesterday. pic.twitter.com/UZBl2u2aw3
Here’s what else you should know about what’s being considered in this year’s budget concerning housing issues.
The budget won’t earmark funds to specific housing projects. It will be up to the Housing Department to award funding for projects.
Shekarchi said he would leave it to Pryor to decide on which projects get funded, instead of including earmarking state dollars in the budget for big housing projects, such as the Taunton Avenue Collaborative project in East Providence.
This $60 million project — led by One Neighborhood Builders, Foster Forward, Crossroads Rhode Island and Family Service of Rhode Island — seeks to redevelop a blighted site into a mixed-use campus that includes 160 affordable housing units with supportive services, an early childhood development center, and playgrounds. Approximately 40 percent of the units would be subsidized for families who have little to no income.
The leaders at these organizations have an “aggressive” development schedule to complete the project by the summer of 2025, but they would need to fill a $28 million funding gap. The nonprofit developers requested that the project receive funding in the budget from the Speaker, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, and Governor Dan McKee. But funding for the project was not included.
“That’s a great project. They are four very worthy nonprofits that have gotten together for a significant project. I fully support the concept and the project,” said Shekarchi.
But Shekarchi said he didn’t find it was up to him to pick the “winners and losers” when it came to affordable housing projects. He said he spoke to Pryor and asked that he prioritize, through a competitive bidding process, “shovel-ready crises.”
No funding for Superman building. Or the Cranston Street Armory.
While the speaker said he felt that the proposal submitted by an outside firm to redevelop the state-owned Cranston Street Armory, which would not become housing, “had merit,” he said he did not include funding for the project in the budget.
Another large project, the redevelopment of the long-vacant Industrial National Bank building, also known as the Superman building, also will not receive any funding. It’s supposed to redeveloped into a mixed-use property with more than 285 apartment units, and room for commercial space. The developer’s plan requires millions in public subsidies.
The Department of Housing might be able to finally hire employees.
Shekarchi confirmed to reporters that the state will “fully fund” the housing department, which includes funding to hire 21 additional full-time employees, and would bring the total number of positions to 38 people. The housing department has long been staffed by contract workers.