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Apartment construction booming across US. Why not RI? | Opinion

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Apartment construction booming across US. Why not RI? | Opinion


Cliff Wood is the executive director of The Providence Foundation.

You might not realize it when driving through Providence, but apartment construction is booming throughout the United States. More units will become available in 2023 than in any year since the early 1970s. Cities ranging from Austin to Charlotte to Nashville have seen inventory growth as high as 90%. But there aren’t many cranes over our capital city. By at least one measure, the Ocean State ranks last in the nation. Why?

The problem isn’t a lack of demand. People want to live here — something that cannot be said for many other places across the country. So why haven’t developers erected more homes in Rhode Island, particularly in the places where demand is greatest, like downtown Providence? That question could elicit a range of answers, but the reality comes down to two — one economic and the other strategic.

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More: Rhode Island’s housing crisis is at a breaking point. How did we get here?

The economic challenge revolves around the return a developer gets on any proposed project. Building materials are just as expensive here as they are in Boston, or on Cape Cod — concrete, lumber and the like. The cost of labor is similar as well. But the rents a developer can charge in Providence are a fraction of what he or she will get after constructing the very same unit in, say, Cambridge or Newton, which brings us to the strategic reason development is so often thwarted in Rhode Island: The Ocean State too often neglects to employ the tools that can help to level the playing field to attract investment.

Rents aren’t the only thing that bear on whether a developer chooses to add to a state’s housing supply. Tax burdens, bureaucratic rigmarole and market uncertainty also play a role. If Rhode Island could best Massachusetts on those fronts, developers would surely migrate here. But far from using these tools to level the playing field, Rhode Island is widening the gulf, incenting developers to go elsewhere and leaving renters here to pay the rising rents born from the reality that we don’t have enough housing.

Consider what’s happening in Boston and Providence today. Boston’s mayor is proposing a program that would allow developers who convert commercial buildings into apartments a 75% reduction on their property taxes — so much that, in one example, a building now paying nearly $250,000 in taxes each year would see its bill to the city drop to less than $30,000. Meanwhile, Providence’s City Council is bringing a lawsuit so that the city can renege on a tax agreement they already approved with a local developer building workforce housing downtown, increasing rates that had already been ratified by a judge.

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More: Warren cut the density of a proposed housing project by 38%. Now the town wants to undo that

Put simply, the two capital cities are sending vastly different messages to builders equipped to erect more housing at a time when market conditions already favor Boston. And that’s a shame because Providence can get a lot of development done when it works cooperatively with developers. The successful and popular Farm Fresh project would not have been built if the state and city had refused to reduce the tax burden on the underlying lots.

None of these projects would have been possible without partnership between the public and private sectors — meaning financial incentives for those willing to invest in the Ocean State. But if the government treats builders as pariahs, the Ocean State will lag. When growing demand isn’t met with growing supply, rents rise for ordinary families.

It’s up to Rhode Island’s leaders to find common ground that works for the greater good.

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Rhode Island

Divided Board of Elections backs proposal to let voters drop off mail ballots earlier – Rhode Island Current

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Divided Board of Elections backs proposal to let voters drop off mail ballots earlier – Rhode Island Current


A seemingly innocuous proposal to let voters drop off their mail ballots earlier has divided Rhode Island elections administrators.

The Rhode Island Board of Elections (BOE) on Thursday narrowly backed a proposal to let voters deposit ballots in state-certified, secure drop boxes 35 days prior to Election Day. The 3-2 vote serves as a recommendation, requiring legislation and approval by the Rhode Island General Assembly, to amend existing law, which says drop boxes stationed outside city and town halls must stay locked until 20 days prior to an election. 

The vote came after nearly an hour of discussion and debate, clouded with questions over logistics, and the specter of public doubt over election integrity. 

Chair Jennie Johnson, along with members David Sholes and Marcela Betancur, supported the earlier opening. Board members Randy Jackvony and Michael Connors opposed the earlier opening date. 

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Proponents including the Rhode Island Department of State, local boards of canvassers and the Rhode Island Town and City Clerks’ Association backed the change as a way to make voting easier and more convenient for voters eager to exercise their civic duty.

“Voters love to use the drop box,” said Kathy Placencia, elections director for the Department of State. 

An earlier opening date also allows drop boxes to be used for voter registration forms, which are due 30 days before an election. Typically, city and town halls have to open their offices on the Sunday registration deadline to accept registration forms from stragglers. 

But some BOE members hesitated, concerned about confusion created by combining registration forms and mail ballots in the same collection box. Not to be discounted: public trust in election safety and security, which has taken a hit nationwide.

“There is a lot of distrust in elections around mail ballots already,” said Michael Connors, a board member who also serves on the three-member legislative subcommittee. The subcommittee on Feb. 20 voted 2-1 not to support a change in drop box opening dates. 

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Even Miguel Nunez, BOE deputy director (who will take the helm as executive director next week), acknowledged the solution was imperfect.

Identical legislation was submitted last year on behalf of the state elections board, and approved by both chambers, but was pulled at the eleventh hour due to conflicts with local special elections. 

There is a lot of distrust in elections around mail ballots already.

– Michael Connors, a Board of Elections member who opposed to the earlier start for opening drop boxes

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Existing state law requires local boards of canvassers to lock drop boxes at 8 p.m. on Election Day, the same time polls closed. When a special election is held a month before a regular state or federal election, the earlier drop box opening might overlap with a time when the drop box has to be locked for a local election.

Nunez presented BOE members with a few options to minimize this conflict. They included getting rid of the requirement that local elections administrators lock the drop box when polls close. Or keeping the 8 p.m. locking time but reopening the drop box the next morning. A third option: opening drop boxes 30 or 32 days prior to the election, rather than 35.

Board member Sholes also suggested another hack to assuage concerns about ballot confusion: color-coded ballots to make it easier for local election workers to differentiate between special, local races and state or federal ones.

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Nick Lima, Cranston elections director, and Kathy Placencia, the elections director for the Rhode Island Department of State, address the Rhode Island Board of Elections at its meeting on Feb. 22, 2024. (Nancy Lavin/Rhode Island Current)

‘Can of worms’

But the multitude of Band-Aid fixes suggested to Jackvony that perhaps the best solution was no change at all.

“I think we’re opening up a can of worms,” Jackvony said. “We’re very concerned about giving people a positive sense of the integrity of elections. I think we’re going in the wrong direction with something like this.”

“Very few” mail ballot applications get sent out by the Secretary of State’s office 35 days before an election, Nunez said.

But the handful of voters who want to turn in mail ballots early would benefit by opening up the drop boxes, which are already paid for, under surveillance, and otherwise sitting empty, said Nick Lima, Cranston elections director and chairperson for the Rhode Island Town and City Clerks’ Association Elections Committee.

Lima has heard from a few Cranston voters who already received their mail ballots for the upcoming April 2 presidential preference primary but can’t drop off their ballots in the drop boxes until March 13, based on the 20-day opening date.

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“That voter will show up at City Hall at 4:35 p.m. today with that mail ballot in-hand and have nowhere to drop it,” Lima said.

Meanwhile, the city of Cranston is spending $2,000 across its four special elections this year to pay its staff to sit in City Hall on the Sunday when voter registration forms are due, Lima said. That cost could be eliminated if voters could drop their registration paperwork in a secure container.

“It’s a large expense for us, and it really isn’t a necessity,” said Lima, adding he “never” sees city voters dropping off registration forms on that final Sunday deadline. 

The proposed changes in drop box openings was one of 25 election-related bills considered by the BOE Thursday, ranging from repealing constitutional requirements for 30-day residency prior to voting, to the maximum number of voters a single polling place can serve. 

The drop box legislation has not been introduced yet, but must be submitted by Feb. 29 to be considered by the General Assembly. 

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Board members Diane Mederos and Louis DeSimone did not attend the meeting.

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When Will RI See The Full Snow ‘Micromoon’ (And What Is That, Anyway)?

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When Will RI See The Full Snow ‘Micromoon’ (And What Is That, Anyway)?


RHODE ISLAND — The last full moon of winter, the full snow moon on Saturday, is also a “micromoon,” though Rhode Island sky gazers may not notice the subtleties that make it different.

A micromoon is a full moon that occurs when the moon is farthest away from Earth, or at apogee. It appears about 14 percent smaller and 30 percent dimmer than usual.

It’s the opposite of the more commonly understood supermoon — that is, a full moon that appears slightly larger and brighter than usual as it makes its closest approach to Earth in its elliptical orbit, called perigee, according to NASA. To see a supermoon, you’ll have to wait until the blue moon in August, the first of four consecutive supermoons.

On Saturday, the full snow micromoon rises at 5:43 p.m. in Rhode Island. The snow moon will appear full Friday and Sunday nights, too.

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The February full moon is often called the snow moon for obvious reasons, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, which sites National Weather Service data showing February, on average, is the nation’s snowiest month.

Native Americans gave names to each month’s moon to keep track of the season, but some of the names also come from Colonial American and European cultures.

Other names given to the February moon are connected to animals, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. The Cree traditionally called it the bald eagle or simply eagle moon, the Ojibwe called it the bear moon, the Tlinget called it the black bear moon, the Dakota called it the raccoon moon, certain Algonquin peoples called it the groundhog moon, and the Haida called it the goose moon.

For skywatchers planning their calendars, meteor showers resume until April. The Lyrids meteor shower runs his show runs from April 16-29, peaking overnight on April 22-23. A full moon at the peak could make this show a wash. The Lyrids produce about 18 meteors an hour at the peak, but they’re known for bright dust trails that last for several seconds.

The big event that month is the 2024 Great American Solar Eclipse. Something like 31 million U.S. residents live in places that will see daytime darkness, with only our yellow star’s spiky corona visible as the moon passes between it and Earth.

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Another 1 million to 4 million people will make a pilgrimage to states in the path of totality — Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.



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Defense once again fails Rhode Island basketball in home loss to A-10 contender Richmond

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Defense once again fails Rhode Island basketball in home loss to A-10 contender Richmond


SOUTH KINGSTOWN — The rising tension in the Ryan Center was akin to an elastic being stretched.

Its inevitable snapping came late in the second half Wednesday night, with Richmond pushing the University of Rhode Island out of reach.

The men’s basketball contender in the Atlantic 10 standings eventually took command against a middler. It’s a script that’s played out multiple times against the Rams in this dwindling season.

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Jordan King caught fire from the field while the Spiders asserted themselves. His perimeter touch was the key in this 85-77 victory, as the hosts dropped their third straight.

Richmond used a 9-0 run that took barely a minute to assume command. What was a 62-57 lead swelled to 14 points with 6:44 to play, and there was no real way back for URI. The Rams pulled within two possessions twice inside the final 1:29 but came no closer.

“It’s not all on them,” URI coach Archie Miller said. “The coach has to sit here and look himself in the mirror and say, ‘Where did you let this group down?’ I haven’t been able to connect with this group — the ability to be able to make us better defensively.

“It’s a first.”

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It was the sixth time this season URI has allowed at least an adjusted 1.20 points per possession. The Rams surrender 1.11 on the season – that’s 277th nationally and the worst performance to date among Miller’s 12 seasons at Dayton, Indiana and here. The Spiders shot 55%, committed just nine turnovers and put five players in double figures while keeping pace with Loyola Chicago atop the league standings.

“If you’re at home and the opponent comes into your building and gets 85 points, you’ve got no chance,” Miller said. “In your building, when the opponent can come in and get 85, you better be real good to get 86.

“It’s hard to get 86. Where we’re at, the evolution of our program, this is new to me.”

Luis Kortright’s conventional three-point play with 7:57 left had URI within striking distance. The Spiders took off from there behind King, who followed a layup with a pullup 3-pointer from the left wing. The Rams used a timeout with 7:19 to play that didn’t stop the momentum – Isaiah Bigelow and Dji Bailey both scored at the rim to make it a 71-57 game.

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“I thought they executed pretty well offensively tonight,” Miller said. “Defensively it’s just not college basketball standard that I’m used to. There’s nowhere to go. Got to wake back up tomorrow. Got to get to work.”

The Ramblers controlled the glass while easing past URI here on Sunday – it was a different story through the opening 20 minutes against Richmond. The Rams owned a 20-13 advantage on the boards, including nine offensive rebounds. Those extra opportunities led to an 11-5 edge on second-chance points.

“We played well enough to beat Richmond on offense tonight,” Miller said. “We just can’t guard anyone. We couldn’t at any point through the 40 minutes get consistent stops.”

URI also forced five first-half turnovers – a modest number by normal standards, but noteworthy against the Spiders. They entered as the most sure-handed offensive team in the nation, giving the ball away on just 12.2% of possessions. The Rams built an 11-1 scoring margin off those mistakes to help take the halftime lead.

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“I wouldn’t say in this game our guys didn’t compete and play to win,” Miller said. “I thought we played a good team. I thought we played sharp at times on offense – that helped us.”

King netted 20 of his game-high 25 points in the second half and was 4-for-5 from 3-point range. He added seven assists against just one turnover in 38 minutes. Bigelow finished with 14 points and Bailey added 13 for Richmond (19-7, 11-2 Atlantic 10), which collected its sixth straight win in the series.

“They didn’t stop scoring all game,” Miller said. “Consistently, they were scoring. If we weren’t going to be able to get stops at some point, the first team that had a lull on offense was going to kind of go down.”

David Fuchs netted 17 of his career-high 23 points in the first half for URI (11-15, 5-8), which is on a second three-game losing streak in league play. Fuchs added 12 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season. Kortright finished with 11 and a team-high five assists.

“If you get 23 and 12 as a freshman in February in this league you’re a good player,” Miller said. “At the end of the day, what we’re asking him to do and how we’re asking him to do it, you hope he has some (players) around him who can help.”

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bkoch@providencejournal.com

On X: @BillKoch25

RICHMOND (85): Bigelow 5-9 2-2 14, Quinn 3-6 1-2 7, Bailey 6-8 1-5 13, Hunt 3-6 3-5 10, King 9-21 2-2 25, Harris 2-3 0-0 5, Walz 5-6 0-0 10, Tyne 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 33-60 10-18 85. RHODE ISLAND (77): Fuchs 9-12 4-6 23, Green 4-13 3-3 12, House 5-11 0-1 13, Kortright 3-9 3-3 11, Weston 1-4 2-3 4, Montgomery 2-4 0-0 5, Wright 0-1 0-0 0, Estevez 1-3 0-0 3, Brown 2-2 2-2 6. Totals 27-59 14-18 77.

Halftime_Rhode Island 42-40. 3-Point Goals_Richmond 9-21 (King 5-10, Bigelow 2-5, Harris 1-1, Hunt 1-3, Tyne 0-1, Walz 0-1), Rhode Island 9-19 (House 3-5, Kortright 2-4, Estevez 1-1, Fuchs 1-1, Montgomery 1-1, Green 1-6, Weston 0-1). Rebounds_Richmond 30 (Bailey 6), Rhode Island 29 (Fuchs 12). Assists_Richmond 21 (Quinn, King 7), Rhode Island 17 (Kortright 5). Total Fouls_Richmond 17, Rhode Island 17.



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