No quick fix to housing need, but we must continue working
By SPEAKER K. JOSEPH SHEKARCHI
In my first year as House Speaker, I’m proud of the way we worked together as a chamber to …
In my first year as House Speaker, I’m proud of the way we worked together as a chamber to pass meaningful legislation aimed at improving the lives of all Rhode Islanders. We made historic progress on a top priority for many House members, including me: expanding access to affordable housing.
When I was elected Speaker, I pledged to make housing my top priority. Simply put, we do not have enough housing available to meet the needs of our population, and this is one of our state’s most urgent crises.
For starters, the General Assembly created the first-ever permanent funding stream for affordable housing. This is a huge accomplishment and has been an issue for which advocates have been pushing for years, but were unable to get done until this year.
We also created a housing production fund and allocated $25 million in the state budget for the immediate creation of affordable housing. After public urging, the Administration began to deploy this funding on the last day of November.
Additionally, my colleagues in the House and I passed a comprehensive package of legislation aimed at reducing many of the barriers to affordable housing. Among the bills were:
The legislature also included $6 million in funding in the state budget for a five-year pilot program to create permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless Rhode Islanders. The “Pay for Success” program, championed by Rep. Liana Cassar, establishes a public-private partnership with a holistic approach and is an innovative way to tackle homelessness. There has been no action by the Administration yet.
It’s also important to note that the legislature will convene shortly. I plan to introduce additional legislation regarding housing, which has been the product of many months of hard work.
In addition to all of the initiatives outlined, our federal delegation delivered $200 million in rental assistance for Rhode Island. RentReliefRI has already disbursed more than $78 million to help 9,684 families remain in their homes and keep their utilities on. At the General Assembly’s request, RIHousing has been holding a series of pop-up clinics across the state to help get the word out to underserved communities and to help people with the application process; I’m working with them to host one in my hometown of Warwick soon. At my request, RIHousing has counselors in the District Court to assist tenants with RentReliefRI applications and prevent non-payment of rent evictions.
Our housing crisis is not something we can solve overnight. It took many years for us to get to this point, and it will take a sustained, comprehensive effort to fix it.
We’re just getting started. By bringing people together, we will continue our work to make housing more affordable for Rhode Island residents. Federal funds aimed at assisting our state’s continued recovery present a once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in housing. With the support of my House colleagues, affordable housing will remain a top priority in the upcoming session, as we strive to make Rhode Island a better place to live, work, raise a family, and age with dignity.
Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi is a Democrat from House District 23 in Warwick.
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