A Hummel Report Investigation
Thirty years ago the federal government deeded over 38 acres and 96 units of boarded up Navy buildings in North Kingstown to a non-profit group, to use for affordable housing. Now the Association to Save Quonset Affordable Housing Cooperative (ASQAH) and its management company are the target of a lawsuit by one of its residents, who says a rogue board has taken over the development while government officials look the other way. This week: Jim Hummel has her story and tries to get some answers of his own.
Click here to view the lawsuit.
In the spring of 1985 the federal government deeded over 38 acres of land, along with 96 units of long-boarded up Navy housing, to a non-profit group that had formed to help provide affordable housing in North Kingstown.
Even the name - The Association to Save Quonset Affordable Housing - or ASQAH as it is known in town - indicated the units would be designated for primarily low- and moderate-income families. The ASQAH cooperative bought the land for $10 - with it came a 30-year deed restriction aimed at preserving it as affordable housing.
Amicarelli: ``This sounds like a good deal.’’
Ellen Amicarelli worked for years in the mortgage lending industry and was intrigued because ASQAH was termed a housing cooperative.
Amicarelli: ``I knew some people who lived here who said, `Oh, this is the only housing cooperative in the state of Rhode island, and what you do is you’re an owner. You buy a share, you become an owner, it gives you the right to your unit. You have to do all the work, you get a mortgage write off, it’s just like you own the property.’”
Amicarell said the property manager for the development told her in 2013 she could `buy in’ for just under $5,000 - he called it a subscription fee, with a monthly rent - what they termed a `carrying charge’ of $531. She says he told her - and the bylaws reinforced - Amicarelli could get back the cost of improvements if she decided to leave.
Amicarelli: ``You can come in here, you’re responsible for all the deferred maintenance, so you’re responsible to do all the improvements to your unit - but just think at the end of the day, the carrying charges, it’s not rent, you all own this together. So it’s not rent, it’s carrying charges, and they’re under $600. And then he said: the reverter’s coming off the deed and you’ll own it.’’
Amicarelli said many of the residents she spoke with at the time said there was a buzz, that when the 30-year deed restriction came off in 2015 the property could sell for millions and those who lived here - and had bought in - would divide up the revenue.
So Amicarelli moved into Number 81, spending $20,000 of her own money to transform a dilapidated unit into what you see today. She has had health problems and financial challenges and saw it as an investment to securing future income, as she has no pension.
Then Amicarelli started asking questions, wanting to see financial statements. After all the original mortgage of $1.3 million from 1985 still has a substantial balance and ASQAH takes in more than half a million dollars a year from the residents. Where does all that money go? And what about the $5,000 subscription fee to get in? Amicarelli ran into an unresponsive board of directors and was quickly painted a trouble-maker.
She has tried to get answers from HUD, Rhode Island Housing, the town of North Kingstown, and others, all of which have distanced themselves from ASQAH, saying they had little involvement with or no control over the cooperative.
In 2011 Rhode Island Housing dropped ASQAH from its affordable housing list, because, a spokesperson tells The Hummel Report, it did not meet all of the requirements for Low- and Moderate-Income housing.
When Amicarelli tried to sell her unit more than a year ago - and recoup what she put in from a willing buyer, the board blocked her, according to a lawsuit she filed in Superior Court in June. She recalled a conversation she had at the time with the property manager.
Amicarelli: ``Sure, you can leave. I’m like I’m going to get my money back. He’s like: You have to ask the board. So I start emailing the board and said to him please tell the now president Gosselin, the guy down the end of my unit here, I want to leave, I was emailing him. I sent him like five emails, could you please arrange to do a walkthrough of my unit with the directors to determine the improvements I’ve done? He never responded.’’
DeLuca: They don’t know what they’re doing. And they’re taking big risks with these people’s property and money.‘’
Attorney Carl DeLuca, who represents Amicarelli, says he has spoken with some ASQAH residents in preparation for filing the lawsuit.
DeLuca: ``I understand there’s been a lot of intimidation from talking to some of the residents there, people who have tried to find out what’s going on have been ostracized. They basically defame them, and slander them and call them names and tell people not to listen to them because they’re crazy or stupid or whatever. People tried to bring up stuff, and the board of directors just walked out of the meeting. Just left.’’
That would include a board president who we found has two cars with license plates registered in Florida parked outside his unit.
A month ago we asked the property manager, Thomas Silvia, to have the board president contact us. Instead, residents told us, they were warned not to talk to a reporter who had been on the property.