By Rhode Island General Assembly

Saying Rhode Island needs long-term solutions to solve its housing crisis, Sen. Meghan E. Kallman and Rep. June S. Speakman are calling for passage of their legislation establishing a dedicated funding stream for affordable housing.

“There is no city or town in Rhode Island where a person making the median income for a renter here — $34,255 — can affordably rent a two-bedroom apartment. Not one. And there are only three communities where someone making $50,000 can. That says a lot about the depth of our affordable housing crisis,” said Senator Kallman (D-Dist. 15, Pawtucket, North Providence). “This is a problem that is not going to be solved with policy tweaks and one-time spending. It’s persistent. We need a permanent source of funds to address our housing needs.”

Senator Kallman’s and Representative Speakman’s legislation (2021-S 03652021-H  5687) establishes a dedicated, consistent stream of funding to support affordable housing in Rhode Island. The funding would come from a small tax on high-end real estate transactions, and would be used to support renters who are struggling and to build new housing for low-and moderate-income Rhode Islanders.

“Rhode Island is the only state in New England that hasn’t made any kind of permanent commitment to affordable housing. While the $65 million in bonds voters approved in March for affordable housing will help create more housing in the near term, it’s not going to permanently address our affordable housing needs. The responsible and more effective plan would be to identify a steady source for that funding going forward. Continually investing in affordable housing will also give developers the confidence they need to plan low- and moderate-income developments, and gives renters and first-time home buyers annual, predictable support that is not dependent on one-time borrowing or appropriations that can change year to year,” said Representative Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol).

The pandemic has made the housing market even tighter, as neighbors from other states buy homes in Rhode Island. The sponsors say the bill will increase opportunity for all Rhode Islanders to have access to safe, clean, comfortable homes, and is a much-needed investment in people who have suffered disproportionately from the pandemic.

A permanent source of funding for affordable housing has been a goal of housing advocates in Rhode Island for years.

“We are thrilled that this legislation will create a new housing production fund. It will help Rhode Islanders thrive and recover beyond the pandemic — by sparking redevelopment, helping rehabilitate blighted properties, and keeping families in stable housing that supports their health.” said Jennifer Hawkins, president and executive director of ONE Neighborhood Builders, a nonprofit community development leader.

“As an affordable housing developer working primarily in Newport County, we are challenged with higher land values and higher construction costs than are found in much the rest of the state,” shared Christian Belden, Executive Director of Church Community Housing Corporation, a nonprofit community development organization in Newport. “The creation of a dedicated funding stream for affordable housing will improve our ability to develop high-quality affordable homes that create opportunities for children, and address the needs of aging folks, people with disabilities, and those experiencing homelessness in our community.”

The legislation was introduced in February. Both chambers’ Finance committees have held hearings and held the bills for further study.

The sponsors and housing advocates would like to see movement on the bill this year, because of the immense need to create more housing that Rhode Islanders can afford.

“The creation of a dedicated funding stream to build and preserve long-term affordable homes is essential to Rhode Island making progress on its statewide housing goals. Years of underinvesting have left us far behind our New England neighbors. We know from evidence and experience that safe and affordable homes are critical to keeping our economy, and our people, healthy and stable. It is time to say yes to invest, and we’re very pleased to see state leaders tackling this as a priority. We thank leadership and Senator Kallman and Representative Speakman for championing this legislation,” said Katie West, Manager of Homes RI, a multisector coalition that advocates to increase supply and access to safe, healthy and affordable homes.