Rotary organizations unite for affordable housing

By Katarina Dulude

It is undeniable that the housing crisis is widely known and felt in Providence and throughout the state. According to Housing Works RI’s 2020 Information Book, more than 146,000 Rhode Island households are burdened by the cost of rent or mortgage payments, spending more than 30% of their income on housing. In 36 of the 39 municipalities, a family earning $ 50,000 cannot afford to rent a modest two-bedroom apartment without the hassle.

What is perhaps less known is that there are in-depth proposals to resolve the crisis. At the end of June of this year, and ahead of the lifting of the moratorium on evictions issued by the CDC in August, Rhode Island organizations BLM RI PAC, Sunrise Providence, Sunrise RI Youth, RI Political Co-op, Rebuild Woonsocket and Renew Rhode Island came together to address the lack of affordable housing in Rhode Island and to co-author a proposal that addresses the scale of the crisis.

Their plan would create 10,000 new green and affordable housing units over an eight-year period. The proposal cites the creation of new jobs – as part of the project’s labor agreements ensuring that all workers receive a fair wage, high-quality benefits and safe working conditions – and a decrease in rental and employment costs. mortgage across the state among the benefits of building these units.

A disproportionate burden on households of color shows that the crisis is also a problem of systemic racism. “The housing affordability crisis has particularly dire consequences for residents of black and brown states,” said Spencer Reed, a key organizer for Renew Rhode Island. “About 44% of white renters in our state are overburdened with housing, while nearly 52% of black renters in RI are overburdened with costs.”

The proposal also takes into account the growing urgency of the climate emergency and responds to the need for new sustainable housing: energy efficient, equipped with solar panels on the roof and, if possible, located close to public transport routes.

The plan calls for investing $ 700 million of the $ 1.7 billion provided by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), along with federal grants and general revenue to ultimately fund the $ 2.5 billion plan. dollars over eight years.

“This summer, Rhode Island [received] $ 1.7 billion from the federal government. Our government has no plan to spend it. That’s why we felt the need to step in and demand that our government invest $ 700 million of that money in affordable housing, ”says Reed.

By comparison, in 2019, Massachusetts and Connecticut each spent about five times as much on affordable housing construction as Rhode Island per capita.

The state began allocating the money received from the US bailout, although in September Gov. Dan McKee indicated that the state would only spend $ 100 million of those funds split between housing, custody children and small business support. The remainder of the funds will be spent on other important areas such as infrastructure, climate change, health, equity and education, although these areas all tend to overlap with housing, especially given the green housing proposed in the coalitions plan.

When asked about Gov. McKee’s response to the proposal of these Rhode Island coalitions, the governor’s office did not directly address the groups’ plan. Instead, they highlighted what the governor is currently doing and intends to do to deal with the crisis. This includes providing RentReliefRI funds to those in need, positioning RentreliefRI staff outside courthouses to help those at risk of eviction, creating a permanent funding stream for affordable housing in its budget for fiscal year 2022 and the creation of an Assistant Secretary for Commerce and Housing to oversee initiatives and develop a housing project.

The governor’s office added that “the governor is also interested in using US bailout funds to deal with the crisis, including investments in the preservation and creation of affordable housing and permanent supportive housing, but has stressed the importance of finding a long-term solution in collaboration with agencies, partners and service providers.

However, no details were provided on specific plans for a long-term solution to the current crisis.

“It is totally in the power of our leaders to make housing affordable for every Rhode Islander. With a wave of money coming from the federal government, now is the time for us to demand it, ”Reed shares.

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