Advocates, state leaders discuss ways to combat RI’s ongoing housing crisis

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) ─ Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos is continuing her push for more affordable housing in Rhode Island.

Matos, alongside other state leaders and local advocates, hosted a virtual summit Wednesday to discuss Rhode Island’s ongoing housing crisis.

Several Rhode Islanders who have either experienced homelessness, are homeless or are on the brink of becoming homeless shared their personal stories during the summit.

“I know what it is to sleep in doorways, I know what it is to be on the street,” Roger Goddard said. “I know what it is to be homeless and sleep in the rain and in the snow.”

Kayla Sims came to Rhode Island to seek refuge from abuse, but claims she makes too much money to be provided assistance.

“I was chosen off of the Section 8 waitlist, I want to say three times as of this date, and all three times I was denied because I was considered to be over income,” she explained.

Wendy Thomas lost all of her belongings not once, but twice, when her home burned down.

“We need housing,” Thomas said. “We need it.”

As of this January, more than 1,200 people in Rhode Island experienced homelessness, and the pandemic has made matters much worse.

“Systemic racism, exacerbated by the pandemic, and our increased eviction rates, weakening consistent foreclosure protections, this has perpetuated homelessness,” R.I. Coalition to End Homelessness Senior Policy Analyst Kristina Contreras Fox said.

During this year’s legislative session, lawmakers were able to secure assistance within the state budget, including the addition of a deputy secretary for housing.

Lawmakers were also able to dismantle restrictive laws that likely played into housing discrimination.

“If a landlord didn’t like that you had a choice voucher, which is frequently called Section 8, they could refuse to rent to you, and that is no longer true,” Sen. Meghan Kallman said. “Landlords could also refuse to rent to you if you were a member of the LGBTQ+ community and that is also no longer allowed.”

But while there has been progress, advocates say there’s still plenty of work to be done.

Advocates suggested creating short-term living options for those who are still rebounding from the pandemic, as well as continuing to build affordable housing for those on all sides of the payscale.

Matos said she’s willing to whatever she can to help Rhode Islanders who are struggling.

“Together, we can work towards making homelessness a chapter in a person’s story instead of the whole book,” Matos said in a statement following the summit. “We have an opportunity to change the life of Rhode Islanders. I am willing to go on the journey. Who’s with me?”