NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — The town of Narragansett’s controversial ordinance from last year that limits rental homes to three college students won approval — again — from the Town Council following a marathon seven-hour hearing Aug. 18.
The 3-2 vote, which was a first reading of the ordinance, is essentially a “do-over” of a council vote that took place last fall.
Renters and landlords took the town to court over the measure, saying it wrongly blocked them from speaking against the ordinance last year. Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter subsequently ruled the ordinance was invalid, so the new council started again.
The hearing last week took place almost a year to the day – Aug. 17, 2020 – that members of the group Narragansett 2100 attended another lengthy hearing leading to the passage of the ordinance. They said they were denied the right to speak.
With the recent meeting held in person at council chambers, proponents and foes of the ordinance change showed up in large numbers.
Proponents of the change complained that single-family home ownership has been degraded over the past several decades. The ordinance will help improve quality of life and attract more families to town, they said.
“The unintended consequence of the student housing market in our town has decimated owner-occupied home ownership in neighborhoods like Eastward Look, and has caused continual nuisance problems throughout the town,” Council member Ewa Dzwierzynski said. “All over the United States, communities have enacted occupancy limits, as low as two students per household. Three is a very common limit, and I think it is reasonable for Narragansett.”
Dzwierzynski also said she believes the ordinance is on solid legal footing.
“I am concerned about a declining population of year-round residents, a declining population of school-aged children and most importantly, I’m concerned about housing affordability in our town.”
Opposing the ordinance are landlords, property managers and others who said that so-called quality-of-life issues such as arrests, nuisance reports and orange sticker violations had significantly decreased in the past several years.
Evan Morrill, director of academic rentals with Narragansett Properties, said he understands the council’s motives.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to increase the family population of Narragansett,” he said. “But the way you’re doing it is working against you.”
He said that since April, he’s aware of a dozen clients who have “kicked families out and switched over to academic rentals,” to charge higher rents.
“It will simply continue to increase rents and run families out,” he said.
Some also argued that the town’s existing ordinance preventing more than four unrelated people from renting a house should be the standard in Narragansett.
The ordinance affects new leases and not existing agreements.
Council members Patrick Murray and Susan Cicilline Buonanno voted against the change.
“I’ve been consistent on the four unrelated policy. This was agreed to many years ago. We had exhaustive meetings … and decided four unrelated was the way to go,” Murray said.
COVID-19, he said, forced URI students into town to seek housing because dorms were closed. This in turn drove up rents.
“You’re just opening more demographics of homes available for rent by students, and making homes unaffordable for families and people trying to get into Narragansett,” Murray said. “The volume of homes for rent increased under the three student policy.”
The council will hold a second reading before final passage of the measure.