Housing advocates, business leaders urge RI leaders to protect proposed housing investments


PROVIDENCE, R.I (WPRI) – With Phase 1 of reopening Rhode Island’s economy set to begin this weekend, community development, health and housing executives say affordable housing is more important now than ever.

On Thursday, United Way of Rhode Island President and CEO Cortney Nicolato headlined a digital press conference and called on legislators and members of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s administration to protect proposed housing investments in the state’s FY21 budget.

In her State of the State address in January, Raimondo proposed a bond to go toward affordable housing. This, as home prices continue to rise but construction remains limited.

In her address, the governor proposed a “dedicated funding stream” to build more homes, though at the time, she did not elaborate on where the money would come from.

Organizations like United Way and Crossroads want to ensure this investment is still top of mind as lawmakers prepare to develop the state budget, with leaders saying it didn’t take the pandemic to show housing and health care are interconnected.

Michele Lederberg, executive vice president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Rhode Island, says the problems surrounding the existing housing crisis have been heightened. Lederberg is also a United Way board member.

“The stress of not having a safe place to live has effects that are wide-reaching and long-lasting,” she said. “Families suffer the physical and behavioral health consequences that result from substandard living conditions. It’s impossible to find employment if you don’t have permanent housing.”

According to a news release from the United Way of Rhode Island, at last check, Providence, the state’s largest city, had only a 2% rental vacancy rate. Additionally, the state’s lack of housing stock has made it nearly impossible for a family making $70,000 or less to afford to buy a home in most parts of Rhode Island.

Nicolato said more than 35% of Rhode Island households are “housing cost-burdened,” meaning they are spending more than 30% of their income “just for the roof over their heads.”

Karen Santilli, the president & CEO of Crossroads, the state’s leading provider of housing and services to those experiencing homelessness, says state leaders need to make smart investments to provide every Rhode Islander the opportunity to physically and economically in a secure home.

“The only proven solution to homelessness is housing, and during normal times, investment in housing has resulted in renewed public health care expenditures and improved health outcomes,” Santilli explained. “But these aren’t normal times, and right now the needs are even more urgent.”

Securing permanent housing will also be important as Rhode Islanders get back to work.

Thursday’s report from the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training shows 209,686 Rhode Islanders are out of work and 154,144 filed a COVID-specific claim.

Target 12: RI halts unemployment benefits for many amid federal fraud probe »

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