Fellow Rhode Islanders: If you haven’t heard of RhodeMap RI, the so-called economic development plan, you’re in good company. Most elected officials are in the dark, as well!
Under the cover of election-year politics, the Rhode Island Division of Planning held two hearings, with virtually no public awareness, to adopt this massively transformative plan. If adopted tomorrow at a 9 a.m. meeting (at One Capitol Hill, the William E. Powers Building), RhodeMap RI could profoundly change life in Rhode Island — and not necessarily for the better.
In 2013, the General Assembly passed legislation for the Division of Planning to develop an economic plan to tackle our economic morass. The legislation was open-ended — that is, we had to begin the planning process so we could find out what’s in it.
The Division of Planning appointed a committee, assembled a “consortium,” and RhodeMap RI is the product. It was originally scheduled for a Nov. 20 adoption, but fortunately, some people who have been paying attention spoke up in loud protest. House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello stepped in to request a postponement so lawmakers could examine the plan in greater detail.
This, however, does not provide nearly enough time for a proper public vetting, especially because of the breadth and far-reaching impact of RhodeMap RI.
In a nutshell, RhodeMap RI is a Trojan horse, courtesy of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Transportation. If adopted, it would profoundly transform Rhode Island. The plan would advocate that towns and municipalities effectively abdicate their constitutional authority for self-determination, and be instead governed by federal bureaucratic fiat.
RhodeMap RI is not at all an economic development plan. It has no economic growth metrics or even a cost-benefit analysis. What we have is a “social-equity” scheme that seeks to control and redistribute wealth and all of the state’s resources by following HUD-EPA-DOT policies and guidelines. If the plan is followed, your duly elected local governments would lose their ability to act in your interest or that of your town.
Here’s an example of the consequence of a HUD mandate, a large component of RhodeMap RI. Current HUD policies are derived from the agency’s interpretation of an old federal law, the Fair Housing Act. It has evolved to the point that HUD has begun working to dismantle the single-family zoning model because, according to some advocates, most American suburban single-family homes are unsustainable and unaffordable to those with low incomes, so they are deemed to be unfair and even racist.
Therefore, past encouragement of single-family dwellings must make way for encouraging urban-style multi-family low-income housing or Section 8 government housing. HUD has thus been actively incentivizing developers to build affordable housing and has a mandate to do so across the United States.
RhodeMap RI will be a milestone to accelerate the expansive development of multi-family low-income housing, beginning with what it designates as “opportunity zones,” or wealthy suburbs. The plan calls for strict adherence to HUD guidelines and for building affordable housing within the regions as statistically determined by “census blocks” and not by local zoning or town planning.
If towns do not adhere to HUD guidelines, they will be sued by the federal government, as has happened across America. A prominent recent case involved Westchester, N.Y.
Why is this important to you as a citizen? If you like centralized, top-down control by the federal government along the lines of the old Soviet Union, then this should not trouble you. But if, like most Americans, you take issue with that, then you must speak up and help defeat this power grab by those with an extreme agenda to deny all of us basic liberties through the planning process.
I urge my fellow Rhode Islanders to urgently engage their representatives and senators. Call your local authorities to stop this attempt to destroy the American dream in Rhode Island.
Dexter Liu, of Portsmouth, is a retired entrepreneur and business consultant. He worked for 35 years in the design, manufacturing and sales of consumer products in children’s entertainment.