News & Event
The Rhode Island One Touch tool is ready to go live! For those using One Touch during home visits, below the the key documents and resources are provided.
To access the One Touch checkup survey — use this link — shown here also https://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/4122194/RI-One-Touch. A hard copy of the survey is attached, as many of you may use the paper version in the field.
Provide the client a copy of the Referral Resource Guide, which indicates the referrals you are initiating (attached).
Courtesy of Rhode Island Alliance for Healthy Homes
April 06, 2018
The solution is to site projects in places that make sense environmentally and societally. The current policy, though, is nothing more than a collective shrug and the repeated claim that it’s cheaper to cut down trees than redevelop disturbed areas.
PROVIDENCE — Both climate solutions are identified as “green” — in fact, one literally is — but the Mother Nature-created one is being destroyed to make room for the manmade one.
Some proponents of the latter say chunks of the former need to be sacrificed if society is to kick its dirty fossil-fuel habitat. Their well-intentioned argument goes something like this: we can’t say no to everything and we need renewable energy.
While renewable energy is a must, it shouldn’t be given carte blanche to be sited anywhere and everywhere. If that’s the development practice Rhode Island embraces, environmental degradation will continue. Public health will suffer.
Rhode Island could lead the way, and the best place to start would be to stop bulldozing trees, covering open space and marginalizing farmland in the name of green energy. This effort would require some universal sacrifice, diversified leadership, a touch of political will, National Grid mapping Rhode Island’s grid capacity, accounting that includes environmental and public-health costs, plenty of carrots, and at least one stick (disincentivize).
“Grow Smart strongly endorses the governor’s renewable-energy goals (1,000 megawatts by 2020), but how we achieve that goal is as important as how that goal is reached,” said Scott Millar, community technical assistance manager for Grow Smart Rhode Island. “We need to concentrate as much growth as possible in the urban developed core.”
Two workshops at Grow Smart Rhode Island’s recent all-day Power of Place Summit held at the Rhode Island Convention Center explored the intersection of green energy and green space.
A morning workshop titled “Rhode Island Forests: Our Invisible Green Giant” discussed the condition of the state’s forests, their economic contributions and how the use of smart-growth techniques can accommodate economic opportunity, such as renewable-energy development, while preserving forestland.
An afternoon workshop titled “A Smart Growth Approach to Renewable Energy Siting” discussed the strategies needed to increase incentives for siting solar and wind projects in and on already-developed areas.
Rhode Island has ambitious goals for renewable-energy generation, and expanding solar and wind power is critical to meeting these goals and reducing, and eventually eliminating, greenhouse-gas emissions produced by the burning of fossil fuels. Energy efficiency also plays a major role in reducing Rhode Island’s reliance on out-of-state fossil fuels, most notably natural gas.
Currently, the state’s rural communities — Coventry, Foster, Exeter, Richmond and Hopkinton, to name a few — are being asked, some would argue made, to sacrifice forests and farmland for renewable-energy sprawl. It’s a counterproductive situation that is frustrating conservationists, municipal planners, developers and landowners.
The siting of solar and wind projects is a complex issue wrapped in property rights, tax revenues, the carrying capacity of power-grid infrastructure, smart grids, microgrids, energy storage, incentives, and environmental protections. Municipal ordinances and comprehensive plans aren’t designed to address Rhode Island’s land rush that is trampling woodlands and taking farmland out of production.
Exeter’s renewable-energy ordinance, for example, was adopted in late 2015, after applications were filed for two small solar projects. Since then, a Rhode Island developer has proposed erecting four solar-energy systems totaling nearly 37 megawatts of energy.
Foster’s new town planner is dealing with four recently built solar projects, one that is under construction, one that is headed to the Planning Board and two more that are in the preliminary stages. Forty acres in the Scituate Reservoir watershed have already been clear-cut to accommodate the first five renewable-energy projects, according to Jennifer Siciliano.
A proposed 32.7-megawatt solar project on 567 mostly wooded acres along Shermantown and Tower Hill roads in North Kingstown has created much resident angst. To address the town’s outpouring of concern, the developer recently cut the project’s megawatt proposal by more than half.
In Cranston, 60 acres of forestland was clear-cut and ledge was blasted to make room for 60,000 solar panels.
Exeter’s planner, Ashley Sweet, told ecoRI News last month that the town needs to “beef up” its ordinance to deal with utility-scale energy projects.
“The current ordinance doesn’t adequately protect the town or meet the comprehensive plan,” she said. “We have a private solar developer who has targeted Exeter and is trying to annihilate zoning ordinances for utility development.”
Few oppose Rhode Island’s need for more wind and solar energy, but where many of these projects are being built or proposed is a growing problem. During the past few years Rhode Island has experienced a land grab to build renewable energy in areas with capacity, most of it solar and much of it on farmland and forestland. In fact, the state’s energy programs and incentives inadvertently push such development to green space. Efforts to change this paradigm are moving slowly.
To build renewable-energy projects on landfills — Rhode Island has about 100, according to Millar — brownfields, rooftops, parking lots and other developed areas requires carrots, such as incentives, renewable-energy certificates (commonly called RECs), tax breaks, favorable lease rates, and grants.
Other developed and disturbed areas, such as gravel banks, median strips, land along highways and vacant big-box stores and their vast parking lots, don’t require as many, if any, carrots to reappropriate. Millar noted that underutilized fields that aren’t covering prime farmland soil would also make sense for renewable-energy development.
Rhode Island has an ample inventory of these developed and underused areas, but they are largely ignored when it comes to erecting wind and solar infrastructure. The Ocean States needs to reverse this shortsighted trend, and quickly.
New England neighbors Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont have already forged a system that incentivizes the development of renewable energy in preferred locations.
Vermont, for instance, has discouraged the development of renewables in or on prime agricultural soil and wildlife habitat, on forestland, or in wetlands.
Millar noted that Vermont has plenty of land in its preferred locations to host the infrastructure needed to meet its renewable-energy targets. He also mentioned that New Jersey has mapped its “preferred” and “not preferred” locations for solar siting. New Jersey identified that 29 percent of its land is preferred for siting solar, dominated by existing residential and commercial areas. It also determined that 63 percent of its land is not preferred — i.e., forests, wetlands and agriculture.
New Jersey’s solar-siting program was built on consensus that utility-scale solar projects shouldn’t be permitted on open space; working farms should be allowed to install a small amount of solar to meet their energy needs; and where solar and wind is put matters more than generating green power.
New Jersey is currently ranked fifth in the United States with regards to total installed solar capacity.
Meg Kerr, senior director of policy for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, moderated the March 29 “A Smart Growth Approach to Renewable Energy Siting” discussion. She noted that Rhode Island needs to do a better job siting renewable-energy projects in the urban-built environment using smart-growth principles.
“We don’t have localized incentives right now to develop on developed lands,” Kerr said. “Communities feel unprepared, but we need to power society’s many energy needs without using fossil fuels.”
The panel discussion Kerr led featured Erika Niedowski, policy advocate for the Acadia Center; Paul Raducha, senior developer for Kearsarge Energy LP; and Grow Smart’s Millar.
“Keep in mind we have to deal with climate change. There’s an urgency to take climate action,” Niedowski said. “We can’t put renewable-energy development on hold as we figure this out. When it comes siting, we’re dealing with two green goals: renewable energy and environmental protections.”
She rejected the suggestion that some planners, such as Sweet, have made to place a moratorium on renewable-energy projects until municipalities and the state adopt updated ordinances and guidelines.
“We need to continue to green our energy supply,” Niedowski said. “So how do we accelerate the rate of renewables development while protecting natural resources?”
Rhode Island currently has 244 megawatts of renewable energy, in the form of onshore wind (104 megawatts), solar (64), landfill gas/anaerobic digestion (35), offshore wind (30) and hydropower (11).
Millar noted that 200 of those 244 megawatts of renewable energy were developed outside the state’s urban service boundary. Many of those 200 megawatts, especially the solar-produced ones, were sited on what was once woodland and farmland.
“We’re losing large forested areas to more fragmentation,” he said. “It’s critical that we protect this resource. Forests mitigate the impacts of climate change, efficiently storing and capturing carbon through photosynthesis.”
Rhode Island’s forestland, however, is more than just a carbon sink. The state’s 400,000 acres of forest, about 70 percent of which is privately owned, protect drinking-water supplies, reduce pollution, protect against flooding, moderate air temperatures, and provide wildlife habitat.
The late Alfred L. Hawkes, executive director of the Audubon Society of Rhode Island for 35 years, called the Ocean State’s forestland the state’s most valuable resource.
Forest products also contribute an estimated $710 million annually to the Rhode Island economy and support some 3,300 jobs.
Despite these many benefits, Christopher Modisette, state resource conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said, “Our forests are taken for granted and continue to disappear. As pressures continue to mount, how do we protect this incredible resource?”
Modisette moderated the “Rhode Island Forests: Our Invisible Green Giant” panel discussion that featured Bill Buffum, a research associate in the University of Rhode Island’s Department of Natural Resources Science, Tee Jay Boudreau, deputy chief for the Rhode Island Department of Management’s Division of Forest Environment, and Christopher Riely, coordinator of the Rhode Island Woodland Partnership.
“Forests and woodlands are a big part of the climate solution,” Riely said. “They’re carbon-eating machines.”
The state’s Office of Energy Resources (OER) is studying the controversial siting issue. An OER stakeholders group has been meeting monthly since last summer.
The Rhode Island Energy Resources Act, which addresses renewable-energy siting, has broad support, including from OER, DEM, the Rhode Island Farm Bureau, the Northeast Clean Energy Council and the Conservation Law Foundation.
Courtesy of ecoRI News
Barbara Fields, the executive and CEO at Rhode Island Housing.
By Richard Asinof | Posted 12/10/18
PROVIDENCE – Wherever you go, housing seems to be a major topic of conversation these days, touching everyone. As supply dips and demand increases, as the occupancy rate nears capacity in downtown Providence, as the controversial plans proposed by developer Jason Fane to build a 600-foot tower for luxury apartments creates a passionate divide between community groups, labor unions and developers, as the demand for affordable housing keeps increasing, one of the people who has her finger on the pulse of what is happening is Barbara Fields, executive director and CEO at Rhode Island Housing.
In its 45 years, RI Housing has helped more than 70,000 families buy homes, and financed the construction of some 14,000 apartments for low- and moderate-income Rhode Islanders.
In 2017 alone, the numbers were impressive: RI Housing provided $257 million in financing to construct or rehabilitate 1,671 apartments and 8 home ownership units, and increase of 42 percent from the previous year. In doing so, the agency supported 1,099 jobs.
Still, despite the efforts of RI Housing, Fields began the discussion by framing the housing conundrum in Rhode Island as part of larger conversation about supply and demand nationally, quoting a recent study by Freddie Mac, which talked about the current mismatch between supply and demand.
Even with 1.62 million new units of housing being produced in the last year, the study said that residential construction for residential units has been weak by historical standards for almost a decade.
Further, the study said that the U.S. economy is currently about 2.5 millions short of what is needed to meet long-term demand.
When asked to translate what that means for Rhode Island, Fields responded: “We did a study almost three years ago, it is a little out of date. But even if you were to discount it by 50 percent, we will still need somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 homes and apartments over the next decade to meet growth [projections].”
In talking about growth, Fields made it clear that is wasn’t just about population growth. “I definitely think we are not losing population in Rhode Island; we’re probably somewhere between holding our own and gaining a little. It’s not going to be huge gain, which you might see in other parts of the country, but we may see 2 or 3 percent growth.”
What is really growing, Fields explained, “is household formation.”
Here is the ConvergenceRI interview with Barbara Fields, talking about the future of housing in Rhode Island and its relationship to changing demographics, changing definitions of households, and changing definitions of work.
ConvergenceRI: At Rhode Island Housing, you are really at the crux, at the inflexion point, for the future of Rhode Island. If you are looking at economic development, if you’re looking at community health, if you’re looking at education, it all comes back to housing.
FIELDS: It never gets framed that way on a national stage, literally since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Since then, there hasn’t really been a major housing discussion in this country, except around the Fair Housing Act [five decades ago].
It turns out [that it] was Mitt Romney’s father, George, who tried to further it in the Nixon years, and when he pushed too hard, and they pushed back, and he kept pushing, they made him ambassador to Mexico.
One of the things that we are doing at Rhode Island Housing is bolstering our research and data collection. Because we would like to be seen more as a source for data, even though we serve certain segments of the population.
I believe that the housing market works as a whole, and we should be a source of accurate information that can interpret national trends, regional trends, and then local trends in Rhode Island.
For instance, the thing that is really growing is household formation.
ConvergenceRI: Can you define what you mean by household formation?
FIELDS: A generation ago, [as an example], my son would graduate college, and her daughter [Christine Hunsinger] would graduate college, and they would get married, and they would form one household. Or maybe two generations ago, it was more typical.
Today, he’s got an apartment and she’s got an apartment. They will be two households until they are older, getting married later in life. Eventually, they could be one household.
The other [trend] we haven’t really looked at is how divorce creates two households instead of one household.
A third factor is [the fact] that all of us around the table have a high chance of living into our 80s and 90s.
We have two growth trends to consider: first, the aging of our population; we will have tremendous growth in seniors. Rhode Island housing, for many years, did not put senior applications on a level playing field with family applications for new homes. Obviously, we have always done preservation.
And, there is the growth of the millennial generation, which appears to be a much bigger cohort than the Baby Boomers.
Another factor here is Rhode Island, is that I think we had an undervalued market. I don’t believe the current increases in prices are just a bubble.
One of our biggest challenges is the fact that we simply don’t have enough housing. Demand is high, supply is low, and, as I am fond of saying, there is no solution; there are only solutions.
I can talk to you about programs and things that we should be doing, but there is no magic bullet. We need a variety of pathways to get to the future.
ConvergenceRI: Anecdotally, I have heard, is that the millennials are coming back, but they are staying at their parents’ homes. Do you have data on that?
FIELDS: I saw a data point that said Connecticut had the third highest percentage of millennials living with their parents, based on some census data. We know that this is happening with more families than has happened in the past.
ConvergenceRI: To return to your comments about data, looking at the future, what are the data points that are needed when you talk about many solutions? I was struck by the fact when I interviewed Nelson Taylor recently about the demand for luxury apartments in Providence, he said he really didn’t have any good information about absorption rates by price level.
FIELDS: We have that. When it comes to data and solutions, first of all, we are living longer, so the data points are that people are living longer and staying in their homes longer.
And that means, we either need to help them age in place, or we need the type of housing where they can free up the single family home and move into a different type of living situation. That’s two different solutions for one kind of population.
ConvergenceRI: Are there experimental or pilot programs now in Rhode Island that bring together millennials with aging Baby Boomers in one community, as a way for them to live together?
FIELDS: None that I know of. I’ve seen similar ideas floated in Portland, Ore., and in Europe.
HUNSINGER: You did send me an article about a project in Boston, where they are trying to pair the older folks with graduate students.
FIELDS: Yes, students looking for a place to live when they are in college, where an older person offers them a place to live in their house, for a lower rent, in exchange for help around the house.
That is a solution to the overheated graduate student market.
Barry Bluestone who is an economist who thinks that there is not so much an explosion of students in Massachusetts that has affected the housing market, but that it is an explosion of graduate students, because they tend not to live on campus. Rhode Island has a little bit of that.
I am certainly a person who supports the building of student housing, even the private student housing, because three students can pay $2,700 for an apartment and think that’s great, because it’s $900 each, fairly doable. But for a family to afford $2,700 a month in rent is beyond the range for most families.
ConvergenceRI: What are the kinds of conversations that need to happen around housing? What are the trends beyond demographics that are important to know? What would it take to convene a conversation, say, between you and Joe Paolino, talking about housing in Rhode Island.
FIELDS: I would love to sit down and talk with Joey. He developed these micro-units that were leased up before you could get out the front door.
Last summer, I went to visit Tony Thomas, who is the manager at the Foundry. He’s fully leased. He said that 54 percent of the people living there come out of the Lifespan system.
When we think about a university or a hospital, which are major employers, you might think about the doctors or the professors, but we often forget about the countless other people who work in those systems – the lab technician, the nurse practitioner, the orderly, the maintenance worker, the groundskeeper, the teaching assistant. If you look at the range of incomes, we need to provide for a much greater range than we normally talk about.
We at Rhode Island Housing serve a certain segment of the market, with both an ownership possibility and a rental possibility.
We are trying to expand the reach of our programs, and interestingly enough, we have also beefed up our communications and outreach strategy.
ConvergenceRI: What is the messaging for your communications strategy?
FIELDS: As I was trying to say before, no matter where I go now, everyone is being touched by housing, which is very different than when I sat down to talk with you four years ago when I came here.
People need housing that meets their family’s financial situation. It allows you to understand that people have different situations and different requirements.
ConvergenceRI: And what do you think is the best messaging to communicate that?
FIELDS: We need jobs in Rhode Island, and the governor has been laser-focused on that, and we are starting to experience what that means, which is great for the local economy.
The phrase, which you can attribute to my board chair, Nick Retsinas, is: Housing is where jobs go to sleep at night.
A thriving economy creates jobs for people with a variety of skill sets in a variety of entry points. We need housing for them, that’s the basis of community.
Years ago, Brenda Clement and I came up with the phrase: the road to economic opportunity starts at your front door. [Or you did.]
I think to think of housing as being part of the basic infrastructure of the community: you need homes, you need roads, hospitals, bridges and schools. Home is where children can do their homework, families can come together and celebrate holidays, get a good night’s sleep and be productive members of society.
Courtesy of Convergence RI
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
2200 Southwood Drive, Nashua, NH
We invite you to be a part of the second New England Lead Conference taking place on Wednesday, November 1, 2017 in Nashua, NH. Hosted by the New England Lead Coordinating Committee, the conference will include a variety of educational sessions focusing on lead prevention, policy, model programs, outreach, the EPA’s Renovation, Remodeling and Repair Rule (RRP), lead abatement, compliance, and the economics of lead poisoning.
Read more >
October 4, 2017 in Events, Local Interest
The Narragansett Times: Dziobek steps down as Welcome House director
By KENDRA GRAVELLE Sep 29, 2017
SOUTH KINGSTOWN—When Joseph Dziobek accepted the position of executive director of Welcome House of South County nearly three years ago, he had expected the job would make for a simple transition into retirement.
But what was intended as a part-time gig turned into much more than that for Dziobek, who this week left his post.
“It’s been a challenge,” said Dziobek, whose last day on the job was Monday. “And it’s been very satisfying—I feel very close to the people who have been a part of it.”
Dziobek, 66, took the job at Welcome House after retiring from his career as CEO of Fellowship Health Resources. He said he intended only to stay for two or three years.
October 4, 2017 in Local Interest
Final Days to Register: 2017 Housing Fact Book Release
Date: Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Luncheon: 12:00pm - 1:30pm
Location: Rhode Island Convention Center, 1 Sabin Street, Providence RI
October 3, 2017 in Events, Local Interest
Rhode Island College: The Defamation Experience
Monday, October 30, 2017
5:00PM - Doors Open
6:00PM - Performance
SPONSORED BY: THE DIVISION OF COMMUNITY EQUITY AND DIVERSITY AND THE DIVISION OF STUDENT SUCCESS
THE PLAY * THE DELIBERATION * THE DISCUSSION
September 27, 2017 in Events, Local Interest
NLIHC: Sign Letters to Support Equitable Housing Recovery after Devastating Hurricanes
Help ensure that low income people and neighborhoods are treated fairly after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. A broad coalition of national, state, and local organizations is calling on Congress, FEMA, and HUD to ensure that the federal response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria is complete and equitable for everyone, especially families and individuals with the lowest incomes who are often the hardest hit by disasters and have the fewest resources to recover afterwards.
September 27, 2017 in Local Interest, National News
Roger Williams University: Social Justice Month Events
Thursday, Oct 19
Mary Tefft White Center
How Housing Works
4:00pm – 6:00pm
Sponsored by Housing Works RI and RWU Chief Diversity Officer
Keywords: socioeconomic status, race, jobs, housing, equity
Workshop with Brenda Clement, Director of Housing Works Rhode Island and Ame Lambert, RWU Chief Diversity Officer.
An overview of housing issues in Rhode Island and connections to the larger social justice agenda.
September 25, 2017 in Local Interest
Providence Journal: People on the move for the week of Sept. 17
Posted Sep 13, 2017 at 5:34 PM
Updated Sep 13, 2017 at 5:34 PM
Rhode Island LISC
Rhode Island Local Initiatives Support Corportation has welcomed two new employees. Jeremiah O’Grady, of Lincoln, joined LISC as program officer after spending more than 12 years at ONE Neighborhood Builders as real estate project manager and director of asset management and operations.
Liz Klinkenberg, of Warwick, was hired as communications director. She brings more than 15 years of public relations experience to her new position, including work for The Miami Herald and The Providence Journal.
The Providence American: Reed Announces $300k in Community Development Grants for NeighborWorks Affiliates
WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to promote healthy, vibrant neighborhoods across Rhode Island, U.S. Senator Jack Reed today announced an additional $300,000 in federal funding for three Rhode Island-based affiliates of NeighborWorks America (NeighborWorks). These federal funds will help NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley, ONE Neighborhood Builders, and West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation to provide affordable housing opportunities, generate job growth, and enhance economic stability for working families. Earlier this year, Senator Reed also helped to secure over $750,000 in federal funding for NeighborWorks affiliates in Rhode Island, bringing total NeighborWorks investment in the state to above $1 million for fiscal year 2017.
September 21, 2017 in Federal News, Local Interest
The Providence American: Providence Unveils PVD Gives Donation Station
PROVIDENCE, RI – Mayor Jorge O. Elorza today joined members of the City Council, public safety officials, and community leaders who have been named to the PVD Gives commission for the unveiling of the City’s first Donation Station at Kennedy Plaza. The retrofitted parking meter is one of ten stations that will be installed across the city to collect funds that will support local organizations that provide housing and services to those in need.
“PVD Gives and the new Donation Stations make it easier to give back,” said Mayor Jorge Elorza. “Our collective generosity can make all the difference in the lives of those striving to get back on their feet. I encourage visitors and residents to chip in and be part of the solution.”
September 21, 2017 in Local Interest
Providence Journal: Report: New England losing 65 acres of forestland per day
By Steve LeBlanc / Associated Press
Posted Sep 19, 2017 at 11:21 AM
Updated Sep 19, 2017 at 11:21 AM
BOSTON — New England has been losing forestland to development at a rate of 65 acres per day — a loss that comes at a time when public funding for preservation of open land, both state and federal, has also been on the decline in all six states.
That’s the conclusion of a report released Tuesday by the Harvard Forest, a research institute of Harvard University.
The study found public funding for land conservation in New England dropped by half between 2008 and 2014 to $62 million per year, slightly lower than 2004 levels.
December 20, 2018
What does it cost to live and raise a family in Rhode Island and how do work supports help families meet basic needs?
Rhode Island is a wonderful place to live and raise a family. Our culinary and arts communities, scenic beaches and other recreational opportunities offer much about which to be proud. But not all Rhode Islanders are able to enjoy these pleasures and instead struggle just to feed and clothe their children and keep a roof over their heads. Many Rhode Islanders work at jobs that pay wages that are too low to meet basic living costs. Fortunately, work support programs can help close the gap between earnings and expenses.
The Economic Progress Institute publishes the Rhode Island Standard of Need (RISN) to answer two fundamental questions:
The RISN calculates a household budget for families with two young children, and for single adults. The no-frills budget includes the costs of housing, food, transportation, health care, child care and other necessities including clothing, toiletries and telephone service. The RISN also demonstrates how work supports like food assistance, tax credits, and child care and health care subsidies help close the gap between income and basic need expenses. By taking all of these factors into account, the RISN provides a more realistic measure of the economic security of Rhode Islanders than the federal poverty level.
Courtesy of Economic Progress Institute
Housing advocates in Rhode Island representing a wide coalition of housing groups including community development corporations (CDCS); public housing authorities (PHAs); homeless shelter providers and advocates issued the following statement on the tax bills passed by the House of Representatives and Senate Finance last week:
“Rhode Island already has an affordable housing crisis, but the tax bills recently passed by the US House of Representatives and under consideration in the Senate would make it a catastrophe. Without the federal tax credits and bonds that these bills weaken or eliminate, tens of thousands of affordable homes will not be built, and tens of thousands of families will be left homeless across our state and country.” said Brenda Clement, Director of HousingWorks RI. “The programs impacted by these bills are critically important affordable housing development and preservation tools, particularly in Rhode Island. We need Congress to protect these vital programs and to invest in the affordable housing resources that we rely on to meet the urgent housing needs of Rhode Islanders.” noted Melina Lodge, Executive Director of Housing Network of RI. “If a tax bill like this becomes law, it will impede our ability to create new affordable housing for years to come and will exacerbate homelessness in Rhode Island resulting in more families out on the streets irreparably harming our communities. ” said Bert Cooper, Interim Administrator of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless. “This legislation would increase the federal deficit by $1.5 trillion which will put immense pressure on lawmakers to make massive cuts to programs that benefit low-moderate income people including federal housing programs.” noted Michael Lyckland, President of the Public Housing Association of Rhode Island.
The House tax proposal:
· Significantly weakens the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, a successful public-private partnership that has become the foundation for affordable housing development across New England and the nation. While the credit itself is retained, it would be significantly weakened due to the corporate tax rate being significantly lowered. With less of a need for tax credits, the value of the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit would drop, greatly reducing investments in low income housing by private companies. If not addressed, over the next five years, this will result in the loss of more than $35 million that could have been used to develop or preserve 400 homes for Rhode Island families.
· Eliminates the tax exemption on Private Activity Bonds, including multifamily housing bonds. This tax exemption allows bond-financed multifamily projects to access ‘4% Housing Credits,’ which have helped produce or preserve tens of thousands of affordable homes in New England. Developments financed with 4% credits often serve households with extremely low incomes, and these credits have also been used on mixed-income developments, helping to meet overall demand for market rate housing while providing rents that households with lower incomes can afford. Tax-exempt bonds are also used for reduced interest mortgages for first time homebuyers. Rhode Island currently utilizes 4% housing credits with tax exempt bond financing to preserve about 400 units every year. In addition to preserving our stock of affordable homes, that investment results in $6 million annually in construction activity, supporting 135 construction jobs.
· Eliminates the New Markets Tax Credit, a vital resource for community revitalization efforts in distressed areas. In Rhode Island, recent projects supported by the New Markets Tax Credit include Amos House, the Boys & Girls Club in Pawtucket and the Institute for Nonviolence. Housing. Between 2003 and 2015, $412.4 million in NMTC allocation leveraged an additional $405.7 million from other sources for a total of $818.1 million in project investments to 62 Rhode Island businesses and revitalization efforts, creating 8,720 jobs.
· Eliminates the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit, which has had a great impact in Rhode Island attracting developers to invest in once vacant, deteriorated, and underutilized structures, such as old mills, schools, and hospitals, and transforms them into much needed housing and commercial space. Hundreds of historic and iconic buildings in Rhode Island have been returned to use, creating homes resulting in tens of millions in new local tax revenues. Based on Grow Smart RI's analysis of data from the US. Census Bureau and a 2017 Rutgers University report, Rhode Island ranks first in the country on a per capita basis for its volume of recent historic rehab expenditures associated with the federal credit.
· Reforms the Mortgage Interest Deduction, which has been a long-standing effort of housing advocates and would ordinarily be a major step in the right direction. Unfortunately, the tax proposal uses the resulting savings to pay for tax cuts, not to fund new investments in affordable housing.
· Increases the federal deficit by $1.5 trillion, putting immense pressure on lawmakers in future years to make massive cuts to programs benefiting low- and moderate-income people, include federal housing programs.
HousingWorks RI at RWU is a clearinghouse of information about housing in Rhode Island. We conduct research and analyze data to inform public policy and promote dialogue about the relationship between housing and the state’s economic future and our residents’ well-being.
Public Housing Association of Rhode Island (PHARI) is an association of twenty-five public housing authorities throughout the state dedicated to providing safe, affordable and decent housing.
The Housing Network of Rhode Island is the state association of non-profit community development corporations. Our members have developed and build thousands of units of affordable housing throughout the state and initiated numerous revitalization efforts in neighborhoods across Rhode Island.
The Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless is organized to promote and preserve the dignity and quality of life for men, women, and children by pursuing comprehensive and cooperative solutions to the problems of housing and homelessness.
By Mary MacDonald | April 27, 2018 6:30 am
R.I. Housing and Mortgage Finance Corp. is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year in a position of financial strength, says Executive Director Barbara Fields.
It has created programs to assist first-time homeowners, expanded its servicing of mortgages to include those generated by MaineHousing and emerged from the Great Recession with a surplus of financial assets.
But it is working against a backdrop of unaffordability. Half of all renters and 30 percent of homeowners in Rhode Island are housing-cost burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their take-home income on rent and utilities.
Fields has been executive director of the quasi-public agency since January 2015. She previously was the New England regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the director of the Local Initiatives Support Corp. in Providence.
What’s the best way for Rhode Island to increase access to affordable housing?
“Build, build, build,” she said.
How has the mission of R.I. Housing changed over the past 45 years? R.I. Housing was established by the General Assembly in 1973 as a public corporation of the state. We have an independent existence from the state, although they exercise a central control over our board. Our primary purpose was to encourage investment of private funds for the development of housing for low- and moderate-income persons, and to function as a source of capital for affordable-housing development. We were basically set up to be the state’s housing bank at a time when many other states were doing this. Today, there are 53 housing finance agencies [nationally].
Within Rhode Island, what is your share of home loan origination? Last year, we did 13 percent of the mortgages in the state. Origination … is only 15 percent of our business. Eighty-five percent of our business comes from working with 40 brokers and lenders and we consider them, obviously, critical and important partners. The No. 1 is [Coastway Community Bank]. They help bring us business. Housing is economic development. We help support local businesses. … Also, we were set up to bring private money in to help people get into home ownership. We go to Wall Street and float taxable and tax-exempt bonds, both for single-family and multifamily.
Since the [Great Recession], what has changed in our business is we also sell in the secondary market. We get a warehouse line of credit. We work with three or four banks. We purchase the mortgages and when we get enough, we bundle them and we sell them in the secondary market as securitized mortgages.
What’s the benefit of doing that? The interest rates have been extremely low. There are key Rhode Island officials … who got their first mortgages at RIHousing. [Former Auditor General] Ernie Almonte in 1982 or 1983 bought [his] first house. The rates were 15-16 percent and we could get you 12 [percent]. We forget. In a video on our website he stands in front of his first house. That speaks to what our major focus and mission is. People who are early in their career, buying a home and setting roots in the community. Last year was a banner year. We did almost 1,800 mortgages. The average age of someone who got a mortgage through RIHousing last year was 37.
Is there any focus this year for the organization? Rental apartments for working families, working individuals and a lot more seniors. We have a growing senior population. … [Recently], we got the first-ever Capital Magnet Fund. We got one of the largest in the country. It’s from the U.S. Department of Treasury. It’s $4.7 million and it will help us on a key focus. … We run a lot of federal programs on behalf of the state. One of them is the federal low-income housing tax credit. … There are two sets of credits. One is a deeper subsidy, called the 9 percent. It’s highly competitive. We’re doing as much as we possibly can with what we get. The other, which is a shallower subsidy [of 4 percent] that has to be used with our first mortgage, that is limited by the state’s bond capacity. We are not tapped out, and we would love to do more of those deals. And produce more rental housing and preserve housing that exists. [With] that Capital Magnet, we’ll be able to fill that hole, between the 4 percent and the 9 percent.
What is the profile of your mortgage borrower? The average household income for the homeowners we served last year was … about $66,000 to $67,000. That’s teachers who may be in for a few years, certified accountants, nursing assistants, construction workers. This is the heart and soul of what makes up our middle class. And the average sale price was just under $200,000. And I’m proud of the fact that 27 percent of our mortgages are reaching the minority community. We’re seeing rising prices, so some of that rise is good, it means our economy is getting better. … One of the challenges is … just having more housing built in the state.
You’ve touched on the lack of inventory in single-family homes. What is the solution? How do we get more inventory? Build, build, build.
How? There are different pieces. Some of them we’re beginning to explore: if there are zoning challenges and communities that aren’t interested. Personally, I’ve been going around the state for the past year. I’ve been in Barrington, Middletown, Cumberland, talking to mayors, city councilors and town councils. I would have to say, by and large, they are welcoming. Everyone at this point has a story to tell. It’s either my son won’t leave the house, [or] soon it will be my mother won’t leave the house. Or my sister-in-law’s godchild and her fiancé are looking for a house, and they can’t find it. Seniors are staying longer in their homes. They’re living longer and are in better health. That’s not freeing [housing] up.
If there is an understanding of what the issue is, why aren’t more towns creating zoning to allow more density? I think South Kingstown just did some [rezoning] along Route 1. As I say to the communities, think about your community. I’ve been out with two mayors now, I’m about to go with a third, [and I say] drive me around your city, your town, and tell me, where do you want development? Because it is likely to come, and wouldn’t you want to proactively direct it to those places? In South Kingstown, they started talking about some properties that they knew.
There is always going to be some NIMBY-ism [or “not in my backyard”], but we have not had that raised as a major issue. We’re now funding our second project in Barrington. … We have done one now in Shannock Village, in Charlestown. These are apartments for families, most earning between $30,000 and $50,000 a year. Anyone can apply. But mostly you get people from your community. When we run the numbers in these communities, usually you find 20 percent of current residents would be eligible. … The most important thing to understand is there isn’t one type of housing that we advocate for. We have high-rise buildings. We have single-family homes being built. We have duplexes. We have ground-floor retail and townhouses.
So, people may have a visual that pops into their head when they think of affordable housing. They don’t want it developed in their community because they think it’s going to be ugly? We’re smarter about how to build [today]. We think about housing as part of the community, and community is the economic life of the state. I’m a community-development person coming into housing, so I am always thinking about the connection. We always look when we are financing multifamily rental, where are the parks, where’s the bus line, where do you shop for groceries? What is it that makes a community?
People still assume millennials are living in the basement with their parents. But they’re out there buying now, they are the starter-home market. You have a variety of mortgage programs, including down-payment assistance. But they’re running into an inventory problem. Are the state’s demographics part of the problem? It’s a variety of factors. You have millennials who are now ready to buy. You have a tremendous change in the economy. We went from the second-worst unemployment rate in the country to one of the lowest. We did a 10-year study. Even if the population grows slowly, we projected it would grow at 5 percent [over 10 years]. Households will grow at 12-13 percent. People are waiting longer to marry. You have a lot of singles, or two people in a house without a child until later. So, people need more houses. People are divorcing. You have more households being created by all of these factors. Especially if you go back and see what was going on 30 years ago. The average size in public housing is smaller. Occasionally we will see a proposal come in with a four-bedroom unit or a five-bedroom unit. But we are building one, two and three [bedrooms].
There is some pushback in Providence that the new housing being constructed is primarily downtown housing not designed to accommodate families, who also need housing. Does Rhode Island need more small apartments? A healthy rental market has about a 6.5-7.5 percent rental vacancy rate, so you have turnover, you have empty units for people to come and look at. The nation is below that. Rhode Island dropped last year … to under 4 percent. And Providence is lower than the state. Providence is about 2 percent. So, we need rental apartments, as well as owner-occupied apartments. We’re in a niche, but it’s needed across the income ranges. Part of what’s increased the demand here also is people coming from the Boston area. This is an attractive place to live.
In Massachusetts, a state law called 40B seems to have more strength in getting affordable housing built in individual towns. (The law allows developers to bypass local zoning in towns or cities that have less than 10 percent of the housing stock available at affordable prices.) What is the challenge for Rhode Island’s affordable-housing requirement? FortyB has a lot more teeth. I would say, yes, we have a 10 percent law. … A [state] commission is looking at how to make it stronger.
Do you think it needs to be made stronger, to distribute affordable housing? Yes, I believe so. When you sit down and talk to a community about who would live in the housing you’re talking about, it becomes a very different story. Up here, it’s like numbers, ideas and images. Down here, it’s “Oh, it’s my best friend. It’s my brother-in-law.”
There are many Rhode Islanders who earn less than the state median, as well. I don’t care what your job is. No one makes in their first five years what they might later. We want to accommodate that. I’m sure Ernie Almonte’s salary is different today than it was 25 years ago, when we helped him buy his first house. But that was a good investment to make. It wasn’t a giveaway.
Some activist groups have recommended rent control in Providence, to dampen price escalation. Is rent control an option? My preference is to build. Supply is the approach now being done in Boston. If we can increase the supply, it helps to moderate the prices. We are also involved in several efforts to make sure we maintain the affordable units that we have, that work for people at the lowest income levels. We are very committed to preservation, whether it’s senior units or family housing. We need to preserve what we have. A lot of the housing we’re preserving is 30 years old.
Some community advocates in Providence think city incentives via tax-stabilization agreements should not be used on luxury housing. The Fane Organization tower could be the next argument over this. Should public incentives be used for luxury product? I would just say the TSA process needs to be predictable. No matter what program we run, people want predictability. In Providence, TSAs are needed so we have predictability. If you meet these requirements, you can come in.
Sen. Howard Metts, D-Providence, has raised the issue of discrimination against Section 8 tenants, that the people who hold the vouchers are having trouble finding apartments. He has proposed a law that would prevent landlords from using the source of income as a reason to block a lease. Is this an issue? Absolutely. Thirteen states have that law, including four New England states. We’re supportive of [his proposal].
Gov. Gina M. Raimondo has proposed a transfer to the state of $5 million from R.I. Housing in fiscal 2019. Can the state “scoop” your funds? The board will have to vote on it. We’re going to minimize the impact. It will have an impact, obviously, but we’re going to minimize it. This came up in January. We know the budget will be made by the end of June.
Why did you agree to do it? The governor controls the board and we’re part of the team. Someone talked to the chairman. It’s not an optimal situation. But we’re going to minimize it. We get rated by the bond-rating agencies and we’re talking with them. They will take a look at our rating. But we happen to be in a strong position.
According to your most recent annual audit, your loan-loss contribution fell dramatically in fiscal 2017. What is the story behind that? The market is doing better. People are doing better. We had tremendous losses during the recession, now we’re on a different path. We hope it continues.
The same audit indicated that the three-month delinquencies on R.I. Housing mortgages rose between 2016 and 2017. What is the reason for that? We had a slight uptick, but we are on top of it. We are below nationwide and below New England. We have new metrics we’re following and are working with our 40 brokers and lenders. We look at people’s credit scores and we look at their ratios. We meet, we want [the Federal Housing Administration] to purchase our mortgages, FHA and Fannie Mae. We have some flexibility. We instituted a credit score to raise it a little, to make sure we’re in line with the rest of the New England states.
Some people think homeownership shouldn’t necessarily be identified as a dream for everyone. That maybe we shouldn’t be encouraging homeownership. Do you have any thoughts on that? We should always have a range of housing options. … There are people who need a homeownership opportunity, they’ve saved for years. It may be a single-family, a townhouse, a condominium. We need rental opportunities. Seniors who owned a home who need a rental opportunity. Supportive opportunities, say veterans, where there are services on-site for them. And we also work on properties where we have the vouchers. Every community needs to think, at different points in people’s lives … there are different reasons why people choose types of housing.
Courtesy of Providence Business News
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