News & Event
Housing discrimination is still alive and well in Rhode Island.
Currently, RI and NH are the only states in New England that allow landlords to systematically reject potential tenants if they have a housing choice voucher, or Section 8.
UNDERSTAND that the law that is trying to change that WILL NOT FORCE landlords to accept ALL Section 8. They will still be able to screen applicants just like they do with non-section 8 tenants. They will simply not be allowed to refuse people ONLY because they have a voucher.
To view the associated video from Signs of Providence, click here
Alan Berube, Monday, February 5, 2018
Research has historically framed income inequality as a national issue, one best addressed through national monetary and fiscal policies that raise demand for labor and redistribute resources from the rich to the poor. Yet widening disparities across and within places in the United States, revealed in debates around wages, housing affordability, and public safety, have motivated policymakers and researchers to pay increased attention to inequality’s local dimensions.
Now, many cities’ aggressive bids for Amazon’s second headquarters are heightening anxieties that the company’s expansion could further accelerate inequality wherever it eventually lands (as many say it has in Seattle). The debate about Amazon fits into a wider set of concerns about the tech sector’s role in contributing to income inequality, via the winner-take-all dynamics of the digital economy.
Amid these currents, this piece updates previous Brookings Metro analysesto examine trends in household income inequality in the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas and their most populous central cities from 2014 to 2016. As with earlier analyses, it uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey on household income at the 95th percentile of the distribution (i.e., where only 5 percent of households earn more) and the 20th percentile of the distribution (i.e., where 20 percent of households earn less). It uses the ratio between those incomes as a principal measure of inequality in cities and metro areas. Key findings include:
Among big cities, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. exhibited the highest rates of income inequality in 2016. The top 5 percent of households in these cities earned incomes at least 18 times as high as the bottom 20 percent of households. Relatively wealthy cities including Boston, New York, and San Francisco, as well as cities struggling with high poverty such as Buffalo, Miami, New Orleans, and Providence, also registered high rates of income disparity. In general, older cities with fewer middle-class neighborhoods and larger amounts of subsidized housing tended to exhibit higher inequality. Newer, more geographically expansive cities such as Columbus, Jacksonville, and Virginia Beach, as well as those with stronger middle-class employment like Allentown and Oxnard, had among the lowest levels of income inequality.
Levels of inequality in cities reflect broader income disparities in metropolitan areas. Four of the 10 cities with the highest levels of inequality are located in one of the 10 most unequal metropolitan areas (Boston, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco). Conversely, three of the cities with the lowest levels of inequality are located in one of the 10 most equal metropolitan areas (Des Moines, Lakeland, Virginia Beach). This indicates that city inequality reflects not only local housing dynamics but also wider industrial and income patterns in the regional labor market. Notably, three regions along Utah’s Wasatch Front—Salt Lake City, Provo, and Ogden—exhibit the lowest levels of income inequality among their metropolitan peers.
More cities experienced declines in income inequality from 2014 to 2016 than saw increases. While few cities overall saw income disparities between rich and poor households change by a statistically significant margin, among those that did, declines in income inequality (eight) outnumbered increases (five). From 2014 to 2016, high-income households in 30 cities logged significant income gains, as did low-income households in 34 cities. (In only one city—Rochester—did low-income households suffer a statistically significant income decline.) The net effect reduced income disparities in Charlotte, Dallas, Jackson, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Knoxville, Louisville, and Salt Lake City, but pushed them higher in Baltimore, Detroit, Omaha, Rochester, and Washington, D.C.
In contrast to the city pattern, increases in metropolitan income inequality outnumbered declines. From 2014 to 2016, 12 metropolitan areas registered a statistically significant increase in income inequality. In most of those places, high-income households enjoyed income gains while low-income households did not. In Honolulu and San Jose, top incomes rose by an estimated $60,000 in two years’ time, but did not change significantly for low earners. Only eight metro areas achieved declines in income inequality, with lower-income households posting larger income gains (in percentage terms) than higher-income households in most of those markets. Metro areas where income disparities narrowed included many of the cities—Charlotte, Dallas, Kansas City, Knoxville, and Louisville—where income inequality declined, as well as Boston, New Haven, and Salt Lake City.
Some cities posted stunning increases in top incomes from 2014 to 2016. The most astonishing changes in the mid-2010s occurred among high-income households in a few cities characterized by booming technology economies. In just two years, incomes for 95th percentile households in San Francisco rose nearly $120,000. (Median home sales prices, meanwhile, increased by $250,000.) Austin and Seattle posted increases of nearly $65,000 for high-income households, while high household incomes in San Jose rose by more than $50,000. Raleigh topped all cities for 20th percentile income growth at $7,200, which was large in percentage terms (30 percent) but a far cry in absolute terms from the $35,000 increase the city posted at the 95th percentile level.
Income trends at the top of the distribution in cities and metro areas had little relationship to trends at the bottom of the distribution from 2014 to 2016. In cities and metro areas where high-income households posted the greatest gains, low-income households didn’t fare any better or worse than those in other cities. For instance, although 20th percentile incomes in Austin, San Francisco, and Seattle rose by significant margins, they failed to increase significantly in other cities where 95th percentile incomes boomed, such as Baltimore, Denver, San Jose, and Washington, D.C. At the same time, incomes at the lower end of the distribution grew significantly in several cities—Boston, Charlotte, Louisville, Salt Lake City—where top incomes did not.
For those concerned about the effects of high inequality in the United States generally, and in our large urban centers specifically, these city and metropolitan income trends from 2014 to 2016 present some quandaries.
On the one hand, the trends indicate that ameliorating inequality is possible. In several places, low-income households achieved faster income gains than high-income households.
On the other hand, even as a tighter labor market began to drive up wages in the mid-2010s, the relative gap between the rich and poor still widened in a number of cities and metro areas. And even in places where low- and high-income households made comparable progress in percentage terms, the absolute income difference between rich and poor often grew substantially. The inequality ratio did not change in San Francisco, but the distance between its 20th and 95th percentile incomes grew by an estimated $114,000.
Moreover, at least in the short run, city and metropolitan income trends do not suggest the existence of a rising tide lifting all boats, but rather separate ebbs and flows for households at different extremes of the distribution. Even if, as Enrico Moretti and other researchers suggest, local innovation economies generate greater opportunities for workers in less-skilled industries, those opportunities may not materialize overnight, and low-income workers and families could get priced out of a city in the meantime.
While this analysis is too brief to identify the underlying economic or policy factors that may explain those disparities, Brookings Metro’s forthcomingMetro Monitor update will shed further light on how and why economic inclusion is changing in metropolitan areas. Regardless, the distinctively local dynamics of inequality in our major urban areas reaffirm the importance of local leadership for understanding and improving access to economic opportunity for lower-income households in ways that reduce disparities over the longer term.
Cecile Murray provided valuable research assistance for this analysis.
Courtesy of Brookings
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
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.
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.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Jalen Hayre was just shy of his second birthday when he and his young single mother, Joanna N. Ravello, moved into an apartment on Smith Hill. It offered independence and the rent was affordable, but the building was old.
“The owner probably did what he could, but it wasn’t well-kept,” said Joanna when The Journal visited the home she shares with her now-grown son. “Lots of chipping paint, lots of dust all over the house, on the windowsills.”
Jalen liked to stand at those windows, watching children play in the driveway below.
“He’d look down and laugh and giggle,” recalled Joanna.
He’d also ingest the dust and paint, which had lead. Toddlers get into everything.
Before the move, Jalen and Joanna had been living with Joanna’s parents. The boy had been developing normally.
“Thriving,” said Joanna, who was receiving welfare benefits then and who today, having earned a doctoral degree, is the director of Community and Organizational Development with the University of Rhode Island’s Office of Community, Equity and Diversity.
But in his new home, the laughing and giggling boy became someone else.
“He was super-cranky,” Joanna said. “He wasn’t eating. He wasn’t meeting some of his milestones.”
Her mother thought the move had unsettled Jalen. Perhaps he missed his grandparents.
It was 1995, and in Rhode Island, lead poisoning of children was beginning to emerge as a public-health crisis. But outside of medical circles, many people were only vaguely familiar with the potential effects of lead on the developing child, if familiar at all.
“You weren’t aware of the hazards,” Joanna told The Journal. You didn’t know that lead “can affect nearly every system in the body,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and that children are particularly vulnerable. Brain damage from lead poisoning can be irreversible, affecting a youngster’s lifelong personal, social and economic prospects.
But Jalen’s pediatrician’s office knew. A practitioner drew blood for testing.
A lethal level of lead was detected. The boy’s life was saved during an admission to Hasbro Children’s Hospital, but medicine could not undo the damage to Jalen’s brain.
Twenty-five years old now, Jalen still lives with his mother, in a different home untainted by lead. He has experienced difficulty finding employment, and he continues to need support.
“I feel like I’m not living an easy life,” he said during a recent visit at his home.
And yet, he maintains an uplifting attitude.
“Don’t fall into negativities,” he said. “You’ve got to be positive in your life.”
With lead no longer used in the manufacture of paint, and state and federal laws requiring owners to reduce levels of the toxin in housing, cases of child lead poisoning have declined in recent years in Rhode Island and the nation.
According to state Department of Health data, 11,716 Rhode Island children age 6 or younger in 2002 were found to have concentrations of five micrograms or more of lead per deciliter of blood — five and higher being a threshold of concern on the so-called BLL, or Blood Lead Level, scale. In 2017, that number had dropped to 953 children age 6 or younger. (Rhode Island law requires health-care providers to conduct at least two blood lead screening tests on all children by 3 years of age and report results to the health department within 10 days; after age 3, annual screenings are required through age 6, though they do not have to be blood tests. Not all children necessarily visit a provider regularly, however.)
Just as in 1995, children of color — such as Jalen, who is black — and children living in poverty today are disproportionately affected by lead poisoning, which can also be traced to “corrosion of lead service lines where a house or building’s water pipe connects to the public water main,” according to Rhode Island Kids Count, which tracks children’s health. Lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan, created a public-health crisis that has made national headlines in recent years.
But health disparities are not limited to children poisoned by lead — or to children.
Race, ethnicity, income, insurance coverage, education, exposure to trauma and stress, and where one resides, among other factors, also affect health outcomes for people of all ages. If you are poor, you are more likely to experience worse health than if you are not. If you are black, Hispanic or Native American, you are more likely to experience worse health than if you are white. If you live in certain ZIP codes, you face formidable odds.
“The conditions and environments in which we live, work and play have an enormous impact on our health, often dictating the availability and quality of resources that help people live healthy lives,” the Department of Health’s 2015 Minority Health Facts report states.
Differences “frequently result in inequalities in opportunities like quality childcare and education, access to healthy foods and safe places to be physically active,” the report concludes. “Rhode Island’s racial and ethnic minority populations often feel the burden of these inequalities.”
Example: Among white adults, 11.5 percent reported “being unable to afford to see a doctor when needed at least once in the last year,” according to the health department. The corresponding percentage for Hispanic/Latinos was 31.3 percent; for Black/African-Americans, 17.3 percent; and for Native Americans, 21.6 percent.
Another example: Among white adults, according to the health department, 10.8 percent reported “having no person they thought of as their personal healthcare provider(s),” typically a primary-care physician. The corresponding percentage for Hispanic/Latinos was 32.3 percent; for Black/African-Americans, 20.8 percent; and for Native Americans, 21.1 percent.
Here are some income statistics: Just over 11 percent of the white population in Rhode Island is living in poverty, according to the health department, compared with nearly 36 percent of the Hispanic/Latino population, 28.4 percent of the Black/African American population, and 42.2 percent of the Indigenous population.
“The Opportunity Atlas,” a landmark interactive tool published Monday by the Census Bureau with Harvard researcher Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Brown, provides snapshots of a child’s race and the parent income for census tracts across America. Red-shaded neighborhoods in Central Falls, Pawtucket, Providence and Woonsocket, all cities with large minority populations, confirm the correlation in Rhode Island between race and income.
While a better way is possible, Rhode Island and America have not summoned the will to get there, assert many experts, including Dr. Michael Fine, former director of the state Department of Health.
“A lot of this is fixable, and we don’t do it,” said Fine, now health policy adviser for the City of Central Falls and a leader and practitioner at Blackstone Valley Community Health Care.
Fine blames in part what he calls “a health-care services market” that emphasizes hospital care over primary care and is driven by profit, hobbled by lobbyists and burdened by bureaucratic waste. As he notes, despite spending more for health care than any other country, the U.S. has some of the worst health outcomes among the industrialized nations.
In 2016, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, health expenditures in the U.S. were $10,348 per person, compared with $5,500 per person in Germany, $4,752 per person in Canada and $4,192 in the United Kingdom. But for such key measures as infant mortality, life expectancy at 60 years and “adults age 18 to 64 with at least two of five common chronic conditions,” the U.S. lagged, according to The Commonwealth Fund. The expenditure and outcome gaps held true for many other countries, as well.
People of color fare worse than that already inferior U.S. average. “Race influences health through a number of mechanisms: through stress, poverty, education and reduced access to medical care,” Fine writes in his new book, “Health Care Revolt.”
Consider low birth weight, defined as infants who are born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces — babies “at greater risk for physical and developmental problems than infants of normal weights,” says Kids Count. In Rhode Island, 11.2 percent of black infants and 8.2 percent of Hispanic babies born from 2012 to 2016 entered the world at low birth weight, compared with 6.7 percent of white babies, according to the organization, which cites poverty, violence and stress as among the causes.
And consider asthma, a chronic respiratory disease that can be life-threatening. According to Kids Count, people under the age of 18 in predominantly white and comparatively wealthy East Greenwich experienced a rate of 2.3 “emergency department visits with primary asthma diagnosis” per 1,000 children — compared with rates of 13.7, 11.5 and 10.7, respectively, in comparatively poorer and less white Providence, Central Falls and Woonsocket.
A parent in prison can also affect a child’s health. As Kids Count writes, “Children of incarcerated parents experience high rates of physical and mental health problems” and educational disadvantages. “Parental incarceration increases children’s risk for learning disabilities, ADHD, conduct problems, developmental delays, and speech problems.”
Here, too, Rhode Island’s racial-minority groups suffer. One child of an imprisoned parent was reported in mostly white Barrington on Sept. 30, 2017, compared with 983 such children in Providence, 318 in Pawtucket and 253 in Woonsocket, according to Kids Count.
“Our health outcomes are influenced by the medical care available, to some extent,” Fine told The Journal, “but are much more a function of our history, society, and culture — by the environmental exposures left over from the manufacturing of a hundred years ago, by income inequality, by the twin legacies of mill culture and slavery, by attitudes and choices around substance and alcohol use and abuse, by education, housing, and community development.”
Said Fine: “Until we get an engaged and educated electorate who can make choices, I don’t see a way to change it. That’s why I think, at the end of the day, this has become a political problem.”
The health disparities of such conditions as low birth weight and asthma are echoed in lead poisoning.
Of the 87 children who will be entering kindergarten next year who were screened for the toxin in overwhelmingly white and comparatively well-to-do North Smithfield, none tested positive, Kids Count data shows. That compared with 292, or 11.3 percent, of the same-age children in Providence and 32 children, or 10.7 percent of those tested, in Central Falls.
But today’s situation is an improvement over the time when Jalen Hayre was born and in the decades before, when lead-based paint was used in housing everywhere. Lawsuits against paint manufacturers and landlords, legislation, growing awareness, and press coverage — here in Rhode Island through stories by Journal staff writer Peter Lord — helped bring about change.
So did the efforts of the state health department and researchers such as Dr. Patrick M. Vivier, Brown University professor and director of Brown’s Hassenfeld Child Health Innovation Institute who served on the staff of Lifespan’s Hasbro Childen’s Hospital.
During a visit to his office on South Main Street, Vivier shared three maps depicting levels of lead poisoning, old housing and poverty in Rhode Island from 2006 to 2016, with red showing the highest concentrations of each factor, and blue the lowest. Red dominated in Providence, Central Falls, Pawtucket and Woonsocket.
“There are other issues, like water supply,” Vivier said, “but it doesn’t appear to be the driver of the issues. Paint is the main villain. It’s house paint for me. We have an old housing stock.”
And in some of that old housing stock, in poor areas of Rhode Island, those shaded red in “The Opportunity Atlas,” the lead paint remains.
On a recent visit with Joanna Ravello and Jalen Hayre, the mother and son recount the obstacles Jalen has faced as a result of the cognitive impairments caused by his lead poisoning.
“I developed with learning disability and developmental disability,” Jalen said. “It was very hard to, like, maintain it.” Even today, he said, “it takes time and patience to learn as much as I can.”
Jalen was enrolled in special education through public high school, and he has held jobs since becoming an adult, including a seasonal position recently at an Amazon warehouse in Massachusetts. He is looking for another job now.
“Finding a place to work is very difficult,” he said.
Joanna, who identifies as black West Indian, sees lead poisoning and health disparities in general as issues of racial and social justice. If “caring for others, giving back” are truly an American ethos, she said, “it’s time that we move beyond these rhetorical commitments to actually doing something.”
Her son agrees, and frames his views through the lens of his own experience.
“Treat people with lead poisoning with proper respect,” he said. “You’ve got to do whatever you can to save those young children from being lead poisoned. If they are lead poisoned, please guide them through life and help them as much as you can.”
His counsel to others like him?
“It may be a sad life, but you can do it. ... You’ve just got to fight through the pain.”
Joanna and Jalen shared some of their story in a documentary by University of Rhode Island filmmaker and professor Kendall Moore. Watch it here:http://bit.ly/2OzPOj3
The Health Department has established nine Health Equity Zones around the state with the ambition “to eliminate health disparities using place-based strategies to promote healthy communities.” Learn more at:http://bit.ly/2pEak3T
Physical and mental health disparities were explored in The Journal’s 2015 award-winning series, “Race in Rhode Island.”
R.I. health providers working to lessen disparities in care
While the herculean reform that health expert and advocate Dr. Michael Fine endorses remains distant, efforts on a smaller scale are addressing health disparities.
One in Rhode Island is Blackstone Valley Community Health Care, “committed to providing high quality, accessible, affordable, comprehensive health care to the residents of the lower Blackstone Valley” by means of “a model of primary care that stresses prevention, education, and patient empowerment,” according to the center’s website. Fine practices medicine there and is a center leader.
Another is the Lifespan Community Health Institute, whose stated aim is “to eliminate health disparities and promote health equity through healthy behaviors, healthy relationships, and healthy environments.” The institute, headquartered on Prairie Avenue in South Providence, offers dozens of innovative programs, many free or at reduced cost.
Among them: health screening and immunization clinics; educational mentoring; the Transitions Clinic, which supports people recently released from prison; diabetes prevention; so-called “community health ambassadors,” a networking and education resource for front-line health professionals; Food is Medicine, a course teaching how to prepare affordable and nutritious meals; and Financial Literacy, which teaches money management.
Although Lifespan runs five hospitals — Rhode Island, Miriam, Newport, Hasbro Children’s and Bradley — the emphasis at the institute and related Lifespan initiatives is not hospital care. The same holds true for community programs run by Care New England, CharterCare and others in the state.
“Socioeconomic factors — things like income, education, housing status, social networks — these are the things that have the greatest impact and longest-term impact on health outcomes,” says Lifespan Community Health Institute director Carrie Bridges Feliz.
Using a chart labeled “Health Impact Pyramid,” she breaks it down: “Health-care services only account for about 10 percent of what determines your health status. Genetics is about 20 percent ... Seventy percent of what drives your health status is determined by behavior and environment.” The latter two can be changed, given individual and societal will.
On Twitter: @GWayneMiller
Courtesy of Providence Journal
Courtesy of USGBC+
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