Recently, I spoke to a group of young professionals. When I took questions from the crowd, overwhelmingly, people were concerned about how they’re going to be able to afford to stay in Rhode …
Recently, I spoke to a group of young professionals. When I took questions from the crowd, overwhelmingly, people were concerned about how they’re going to be able to afford to stay in Rhode Island.
There were similar questions from a group of Warwick residents at a community meeting I hosted recently. Except those folks, most of whom were closer to my age, weren’t worried about how they’d be able to afford a home; they were concerned about how their children and grandchildren would be able to live here.
The Rhode Island Foundation released a report on Rhode Island’s housing supply just a couple weeks ago. To call it alarming is an understatement: “In 2021, RI increased housing supply by only 1,150 units, which ranked last in the nation on a per capita basis.”
This level of housing production is insufficient and the report highlights the need to build 24,000 housing units to address the current cost burden gap too many Rhode Island families confront.
We are dead last in the nation for the production of new housing. We also have a drastically increasing number of folks who are unsheltered – an increase of about 56% since 2020, according to the report.
I’ve written about housing in this space before. And, I probably will again, because that’s how much of a crisis our state is facing regarding housing. As long as there are Rhode Islanders without a place to live, I’m going to keep sounding the alarm.
The Rhode Island Foundation report notes there is a “lack of statewide long-term goal-setting, planning and coordination on housing.” I will continue to put forth a legislative package every year to ensure that housing is a top priority for the state.
Over the past two legislative sessions, my colleagues in the General Assembly and I have already passed more than a dozen pieces of legislation addressing many of the regulatory issues impeding housing development in Rhode Island. This year, I’ve introduced a package of 14 bills to build upon the work we’ve already done.
The bills in my package have been overwhelmingly supported by the Republican members of the House, and Minority Leader Michael Chippendale is a key member of a commission we established to study the state’s Low- and Moderate- Income Housing Act. The House’s package has earned praise from One Neighborhood Builders, the Housing Network, the League of Cities and Towns, the Rhode Island Foundation and AARP.
Why is housing so important to me? Above all, it’s an issue of equity. Everyone deserves a safe place to live – it’s the American dream. A good home is the foundation for success in all areas of life: children do better in school, and adults do better at work and in life when they don’t have to worry about where they’re sleeping tonight.
Housing is also economic development. When we want to attract new companies to our state, they look at whether their employees can afford to live here. We are also fortunate to have some of the best colleges and universities in the country in Rhode Island, and in order for companies to hire our graduates, we must have housing opportunities for them.
Rhode Island’s housing crisis took decades to reach this point, and it’s going to take years of sustained effort to address it. Ignoring the problems won’t make them go away. The time to address Rhode Island’s housing and homelessness crisis is now.
We’re listening to the experts, following the data, and making progress. I’m committed to seeing this through in a fair and balanced way, and I’m most thankful to my partners on both sides of the aisle for working with me.
Representative K. Joseph Shekarchi, D-District 23 in Warwick, is Speaker of the House
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