PROVIDENCE — The first grant awards from a $50-million state housing bond have been divided among 20 development projects that are expected to break ground on more than 250 affordable apartments, condominiums and houses before the end of the year.
With 59 applicants seeking a total of $40.7 million, the Housing Resources Commission yesterday awarded $10 million to projects that it deemed to be well conceived, fiscally sound and ready to move forward.
Commission members said the decisions were difficult and ultimately came down to which projects were ready to move forward.
“We were oversubscribed. And we were oversubscribed with solid proposals,” said commission member Barbara Fields. “We received solid, strong applications from all over the state.”
The money will go to projects in a mix of cities — Newport, Pawtucket, Providence; suburban areas — Barrington, Bristol, Coventry, Lincoln, Narragansett, North Smithfield, South Kingstown, Tiverton and Warren; and rural areas — Burrillville, Exeter, Hopkinton and Scituate. There is also an approved project on Block Island.
Most of the money — about $7.5 million — will go toward rental units, with $2.5 million going to owner-occupied houses and condominiums.
Commission members said that in each case, the bond money will provide the last piece of funding needed for the projects — 10 of which are producing apartments and 10 of which are producing houses and condominiums — to be built.
The 10 rental projects are expected to produce a total of 388 units, of which 182 will be partially subsidized by the bond money. The other 10 are expected to produce 221 houses and condominiums, of which 73 will be subsidized by the bond money.
“It really is the last piece of the package,” said Joe Garlick, executive director of the NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley development corporation, which received grants for projects in Burrillville and North Smithfield. “Now we can really proceed full steam ahead.”
Applicants were not required to have all their financing sources and local approvals in hand to apply, and many of the proposals were strong even with those pieces missing, commission members said. With that in mind, commissioners said many of the applicants should plan to reapply for future rounds of the bond money.
“There were some good proposals on the table that weren’t funded for various reasons, and hopefully at some point in time they will be funded,” said commissioner Joseph Caffey.
Fields said the applications were ranked by staff members at Rhode Island Housing and then presented to a subcommittee of commissioners and people representing the groups such as the disabled, private developers, cities and towns and the real-estate industry. The group met once to review its charge and then met to review applications and decide which would get the money, said Fields, who chaired the group.
“There was debate,” she said. “I will tell you, we debated back and forth.”
In some cases, applications that ranked highest going into the subcommittee meeting received no money. A plan to build 22 affordable condominiums in Smithfield ranked highest among the home-ownership applications after the staff review but was not financed because it still faces zoning hurdles, said Fields and commission Chairwoman Susan Baxter.
Housing advocates pushed for the bond last year to jump-start the development of affordable housing in Rhode Island. With $50 million available over four years, the bond is expected to leverage $450 million from public and private sources, helping to produce up to 2,000 affordable apartments and houses.
The commission has $12.5 million to award during this fiscal year but held back on $2.5 million because some of the rental applications, while considered strong, were not ready to proceed. The General Assembly has stipulated that 80 percent of the bond money must go toward rental units, deemed to be a greater need.
Housing is generally considered affordable when no more than 30 percent of a household’s income is spent on rent or on a mortgage, taxes and insurance. To be affordable in Rhode Island, a housing unit must have income restrictions and it must rent or sell at a below-market price made possible through a subsidy.
The bond-funded rental units must be targeted to families making no more than 80 percent of the median income — about $59,000 for a family of four — while bond-funded owner-occupied units must be targeted to families making no more than 100 percent of the median income — about $70,000 for a family of four.
The state also provides money for affordable housing through the Neighborhood Opportunities Program, which is targeted to families making less than 30 percent of the median income. About $40 million has been awarded since 2001, helping to produce more than 1,049 units, said Noreen Shawcross, the commission’s executive director.