News & Event
A SMART GROWTH NETWORKING SERIES
Hosted by Grow Smart Rhode Island
Grab a drink & a bit to eat,* chat with fellow smart growth-ers, & enjoy a brief presentation by our featured partner.
*Appetizers on us.
Thanks to our sponsor, Washington Trust, and to our supporting sponsor and venue, 84 Tavern on Canal.
Check out the Facebook event here
Dr. Ginette Wessel, Assistant Professor, Roger Williams University, 401.254.3602
New study outlines potential of transit-oriented development to address RI’s housing shortage and grow jobs where cities and towns want them
Full report available for download at www.growsmartri.org
February 12, 2019, Providence, RI – A just published study estimates the capacity for accommodating up to 73,000 new housing units and 25,000 new jobs in transit oriented development areas located in five cities and towns across Rhode Island. Transit-oriented development, or TOD, is a type of community development that includes a mixture of housing, office, retail and/or other amenities integrated into a walkable neighborhood and located within a half-mile of high-quality public transportation.
The year-long TOD study was conducted by 40 graduate students in the Roger Williams University School of Architecture under the direction of Professor Ginette Wessel and in collaboration with Grow Smart RI, HousingWorks RI and planners in the five communities studied. Independent transit consultants Roger Leaf and Peter Brassard also provided extensive pro bono counsel to the effort. The estimates for accommodating housing and jobs are based on the highest of three density scenarios outlined by the students.
In 2016, HousingWorksRI published a report detailing Rhode Island’s housing shortage and projecting the need for up to 40,000 new housing units by 2025, based on only modest population growth and the continued decline in average household size. “Due to a variety of building constraints, permits for new housing in Rhode Island are being granted at the rate of about 750 per year, less than a quarter of the rate needed to meet the demand”, said Brenda Clement, Executive Director of HousingWorksRI, a housing policy research organization at Roger Williams University.
The report, Evaluating the Potential for Transit Oriented Development in Rhode Island, examined the opportunities, constraints and challenges of transit oriented development (TOD) at specific sites along Rhode Island’s rail corridors and/or high-frequency bus routes in Woonsocket, North Kingstown, South Kingstown, Westerly and Newport. The cities of Pawtucket/Central Falls, Providence and Warwick have already conducted professional TOD analyses, made necessary zoning changes and are in various stages of implementation.
“The study quantifies the long-term TOD growth potential in the five cities and towns that our students analyzed, consistent with local comprehensive community plans, and includes a set of state and local recommendations to realize that potential” said RWU Professor Ginette Wessel.
“We think the timing is right in Rhode Island to double down on TOD as a proven strategy for growing our economy and new housing opportunities in a sustainable way. Prioritizing TOD will capitalize on our compactness and density and respond to the strong market demand for walkable urban neighborhoods”, said Scott Wolf, Executive Director of Grow Smart RI, adding that “our neighbors in Massachusetts and Connecticut are aggressively setting the table for attracting private TOD investment”.
Among the municipal level recommendations are TOD district visioning and planning, infrastructure investment and zoning reform to allow greater density and mix of uses. At the state level, the focus is on assistance with infrastructure needs and improving Rhode Island’s transit system with increased frequency and faster trip times. The TOD analysis comes as the state’s first-ever long range transit master plan called TransitForwardRI 2040 is underway. In 2018, the General Assembly approved the framework for a Municipal Infrastructure Grant Program (H-7102) but it has not yet been funded.
With significant amenities and development infrastructure already in place, including several modes of public transportation, Downtown Providence is currently dominating the ‘cranes-in-the-sky’ TOD activity in Rhode Island. City Centre Warwick, the 100-acre district surrounding T.F. Green Airport and the InterLink intermodal center, has seen more modest development, but is constrained by significantly lower levels of transit service at this time. In Pawtucket/Central Falls, the Conant Thread TOD District will see a new bus hub and commuter rail stop open in 2020 and 2022 respectively.
This report should be viewed as a high powered student product informed by outside transit experts, but not a substitute for professionally prepared plans developed on behalf of the municipalities that were studied. The primary purpose of the study was to quantify order-of-magnitude projected outcomes and to generate interest and discussion on the part of local and state decision makers. The next step would be to engage professional consultants to prepare and refine plans for implementation.
About Roger Williams University School of Architecture, Art and Historic Preservation
Roger Williams University is inextricably connected to Roger Williams, the 17th-century leader devoted to freedom of conscience and social justice who founded a community in Rhode Island based on those tenets. Working to strengthen society through engaged teaching and learning, the SAAHP at RWU provides rigorous professional training in design, history, planning, and technology in the M.Arch, M.S.HP, and Graduate Certificate programs. The school helps students develop critical strategic thinking and communication skills to tackle a range of issues from sustainability and urbanism to historic preservation.
About Grow Smart Rhode Island
Since 1998 Grow Smart has provided statewide leadership for diverse public and private interests seeking sustainable and equitable economic growth. It promotes such growth by advocating for compact development in revitalized urban, town and village centers balanced with responsible stewardship of our region’s natural assets – farmland, forests, the coastline, and the Bay. It informs leaders, decision makers and concerned citizens about the many benefits of compact development and asset stewardship and provides research and training on proven smart growth strategies. It convenes broad coalitions that advocate policy reforms and specific projects designed to build communities where all people and businesses can thrive.
About HousingWorks RI
HousingWorks RI at Roger Williams University is a clearinghouse of information about housing in Rhode Island. It conducts research and analyzes data to inform public policy. It also develops communications strategies and promotes dialogue about the relationship between housing and the state's economic future and our residents' well-being.
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
It’s generally understood that rising housing costs, and a shortage of new units, have contributed to an affordable housing crisis in the United States. New research by economists at Apartment List have found that inequality has also been rising, with those struggling to afford rent tending to pay a much greater share of their income than wealthier Americans.
Overall, the bottom 10 percent of the income distribution has seen the steepest rise in costs since 1980, while the top 25 percent of earners have actually see a decline in housing costs. Renters, at all income levels, are spending a great share of their income on rent than they did in 1980, while homeowners are paying a smaller fraction of their monthly paycheck for housing.
This phenomenon isn’t limited to pricy big cities or part of coastal California. Researcher Igor Popov found that housing for the bottom half of income distribution grew more than those on the top half in every single one of the top 100 metro areas across the U.S. In 45 of the 50 largest U.S. cities, income inequality grew.
One of the main drivers for this increasing disparity is the similarity in rent and housing costs along large stretches of the income divide. Put another way, lower- and middle-income Americans tend to have similar housing costs, despite varying paychecks, exacerbating the financial stress on low-income Americans and highlighting the human cost of our affordable housing shortage.
Apartment List researchers found that those in the lowest quartile of income make 27 percent of the median household, yet they still need to pay 79 percent of what the median household pays in rent. Despite making a fraction of the income, they still have a somewhat similar housing burden.
Two large trends are at play. In the rental market, an influx of high-end rental properties, feeding an increased population of high-end renters, has contributed to higher costs, especially in supply-constrained cities. The median renter pays 23 percent more than he or she did in 1980. At the same time, for homeowners, lower mortgage rates and the ability to refinance have countered the rise in prices, leading to a relative decrease in their monthly mortgage payment.
Again, this income is widespread. Median homeowner income is higher than that of the median renter in every one of the top 100 U.S. metros, and double that of renters in 55 markets. The advantage gained by homeowners, from mortgage-interest tax deductions to refinancing, is exacerbating the housing divide.
Housing affordability has emerged as a potent campaign issue among contenders for the Democratic nomination as part of a wider discussion about equity in the economy. According to Popov, author of the study, as rising housing costs take up more of the monthly income of low income Americans, they have less capital to invest, save or take risks while those higher up the income ladder, due to lowering housing burdens, become that much more advantaged.
Courtesy of Curbed
Washington, DC – A diverse range of organizations from various sectors announced a new campaign today to increase affordable housing for America’s most vulnerable communities.
The Opportunity Starts at Home campaign launched today at the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s (NLIHC’s) Housing Policy Forum in Washington, DC. With financial support from the Funders for Housing and Opportunity, NLIHC launched this new multi-sector affordable homes campaign together with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Children’s HealthWatch, Make Room, and the National Alliance to End Homelessness, and with a steering committee that includes Catholic Charities USA, Children’s Defense Fund, Community Catalyst, Food Research and Action Center, NAACP, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association of Community Health Centers, National Education Association, and UnidosUS.
Stakeholders from multiple sectors are increasingly recognizing the importance of affordable housing to their own priorities and goals. The Opportunity Starts at Home campaign seeks to mobilize powerful new constituencies beyond housing to ensure that people with the lowest incomes have access to safe, decent, affordable housing in neighborhoods where everyone has equitable opportunities to thrive.
Recent NLIHC research shows the U.S. has a shortage of 7.2 million rental homes affordable and available to extremely low income (ELI) renters, and 11 million ELI renter households are severely housing cost-burdened, spending more than half of their incomes on housing. There are only 35 affordable and available rental homes for every 100 ELI households nationwide, and no state has an adequate supply of affordable rental housing for the lowest income renters. Just one out of four eligible low income households receives federal housing assistance.
The consequences of America’s affordable housing crisis are spilling over into many other areas like the education, health care, civil rights, anti-hunger, homelessness, and anti-poverty sectors. By combining voices and expertise, leading organizations from these sectors seek to build a broad national movement that promotes federal policies that protect and expand affordable housing.
The long-term goals of the campaign are to promote federal policies that:
The campaign will also act to defend against funding cuts and harmful policy changes in existing low income housing programs.
Opportunity Starts at Home is also working to strengthen the capacities of multi-sector state coalitions that share the campaign’s goals. The campaign has already issued capacity-building grants to partners in seven states: California, Idaho, Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, and Utah.
“The time to act is now,” said Diane Yentel, NLIHC president and CEO. “The housing affordability problem has reached historic heights. Federal housing assistance is chronically underfunded and faces increasing threats. It’s time for those who believe that everyone in America deserves a safe and affordable home to join in a movement that will ensure fundamental opportunities for people most in need.”
“UnidosUS is dedicated to improving opportunities for Latinos and we’re especially proud of our work over the past 50 years to empower Latinos to contribute and to share in the nation’s economic opportunities,” said Eric Rodriguez, UnidosUS vice president for policy and advocacy. “A good home is the foundation for many of those opportunities: a better education for our children, enhanced employment opportunities, and a safe and stable place for families to live. We joined Opportunity Starts at Home because too many hardworking families struggle to keep a roof over their heads and it will take all sectors of society to make progress and ensure that more Americans, including Latinos, have a place to call home.”
“The United States cannot say we cherish our children when millions of extremely poor children each year suffer through homelessness or are denied access to safe and affordable housing,” said Richard Hooks Wayman, national executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund. “Research shows that half of our intelligence potential is developed by age four. Positive child development is linked to a sense of safety, predictability, and routines. We must do our part to ensure that children have housing stability during a critical stage of development. We must do our part to ensure that housing in this nation is affordable and accessible. And we must do our part to ensure that investments in affordable housing production that keep children safe and secure is continued.”
“NAMI is proud to be a part of this multi-sector housing campaign because access to decent, safe and affordable housing is a critical need for people living with a mental illness,” said Andrew Sperling, director of legislative and policy advocacy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “It is simply not possible to achieve recovery and a full life in the community without stable housing. Given the current threats to rental assistance programs it is critical that NAMI joins with our partners across so many diverse sectors to fight for policies and future investments in affordable rental housing programs.”
“NEA is committed to the three million members and the 50 million students we serve and are pleased to support programs, campaigns and initiatives that are in support of students, educators and families,” said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association. “We understand and know firsthand the impacts affordable and stable housing have on student success. We also know that given the wages and income of some of our members, it impacts where they work as well as their own families.”
“The NAACP is proud to join this multi-sector housing campaign as it aligns with our goal of economic equality in housing,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). “The research is increasingly clear that housing affects all aspects of a quality life; therefore, federal housing policy is very important for the people we serve. We find that threats to federal housing assistance are unprecedented and this campaign will indeed shed a brighter light on the needs of all people.”
“Housing affordability is one of the greatest challenges facing our nation. It limits economic mobility, reinforces racial inequities, reduces health and education outcomes, and is a primary driver of homelessness in the United States,” said Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “The Opportunity Starts at Home campaign brings together an unprecedented multi-sector coalition, focused on increasing critically needed federal investments in affordable housing. We are honored to be part of this important effort.”
“No one should be without a safe and stable home, which is why the Opportunity Starts at Homecampaign is so critical, especially now,” said Ali Solis, president and CEO of Make Room Inc. “By partnering with organizations from the healthcare, housing and education sectors who share our mission, Make Room hopes to accelerate our goal of creating a country where everyone has a home that they can afford. We are honored to be part of this important campaign.”
“Too often, the issues of housing, health, education and income security are considered in silos, separate from one another,” said Doug Rice, senior policy analyst for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “But a home is much more than just four walls and a roof; it’s the pathway to a healthier, more prosperous, and more secure life, and something that far too many Americans cannot attain. We are excited to join forces with leaders in so many fields to advance effective solutions to help our nation’s most vulnerable.”
“A stable, affordable home is a prescription for good health,” said Dr. Megan Sandel, principal investigator with Children’s HealthWatch. “Children’s HealthWatch is excited to join our colleagues on the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign to identify solutions that provide access to safe, decent, affordable housing in neighborhoods where everyone has equitable opportunities to thrive.”
Learn more about the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign at: www.OpportunityHome.org
Opportunity Starts at Home is a new national multi-sector campaign to generate widespread support for federal policies that protect and expand affordable housing.
Established in 1974 by Cushing N. Dolbeare, the National Low Income Housing Coalition is dedicated solely to achieving socially just public policy that assures people with the lowest income in the United States have affordable and decent homes.
Courtesy of Opportunity Starts at Home, NLIHC
By Catherine Hewitt Sun staff writer Dec 7, 2018 Updated Dec 7, 2018
STONINGTON — Working with graham crackers, vanilla frosting, and marshmallows, 50 elementary students did their part to help the homeless at a gingerbread house workshop Thursday at Deans Mill School.
The event raised about $360 for the Mystic shelter known as Always Home. It was organized by the Stonington High School student government and facilitated by the Deans Mill student senate.
Matteo Panciera, 10, a fourth grader and student senator, who was helping students in grades K-2 construct their architectural confections, said he liked the symbolism of the project. Participants donated $10 each. “I think the gingerbread houses are a really good way to raise money for the homeless people because we should be grateful if you have a house or a place to live,” he said.
Panciera also said was learning skills from the high school students, who circulated around the school cafeteria, instructing the student senators on how to help the workshop participants.
“The high school students are doing a good job of helping,” he said. “We’re learning that it is good to help kids and you should do things to try to help other people, like being in the student government and student senate.”
The workshop was structured not only as a fundraiser, but as a vehicle for inspiring younger students to think about leadership roles, said senior Caroline Morehouse, 18, president of the high school student government.
“I came into student government wanting to do a service committee and there’s already a lot of service projects going through our school so I thought of combining it with the leadership aspect and joining with different schools,” she said.
Morehouse said she was inspired by work she does in the schools with the Spanish Honor Society.
“We come here and teach the kids Spanish and really connect with them,” she said. “I noticed the difference in the kids as the weeks go, how they connect with older kids and role models, it gives them more confidence and shows them how to be a leader.”
Morehouse said she wants to do other projects with West Vine elementary and the two middle schools.
Kairi Grant, 9, a fourth-grader and student senator, said learning leadership skills from the high schoolers was valuable and caused her to think about other projects she could do to help the needy.
Jen McCurdy, principal of Deans Mill, said that the workshop was fun, and a good cause, and that "anytime we can do partnerships with the high school or older students, the kids really look up to them as role models.”
“It’s a great opportunity for our student senators, who are kind of the leaders of our school, to see what it could look like at the high school,” she added.
Panciera said he hoped to do more service projects as part of the student government when he becomes a high school student. In the meantime, he said he was looking ahead to fifth grade and organizing the gingerbread house workshop next year.
“I would like to join the student government [in high school] so that I can help other kids, like homeless kids or other people. I would like to do this again next year.”
Courtesy of The Westerly Sun
By ANNA KRAMER
SENIOR STAFF WRITER
Monday, November 27, 2017
Loud conversation and the smell of meatloaf baking filled the entryway of All Saints Memorial Church in downtown Providence Nov. 14. At the church every Tuesday, the hungry and homeless can find a free and freshly cooked dinner provided by nonprofit City Meal Site. On that Tuesday night, the short, graying and flannel-clad Reverend Maryalice Sullivan greeted homeless and formerly homeless individuals. On their way out, the constituents were stopped by a few University students, who asked to discuss political advocacy for the homeless.
These students — members of the advocacy and outreach group Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere — were conducting the 2017 Government Relations Survey, which is used to determine high-priority legislative goals for homeless individuals. The GR survey has been used in past years to gather data for nonprofit groups that lobby for legislative action in the Rhode Island State House, said Gabriel Zimmerman ’18, co-director of HOPE. The survey was formerly administered by the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, but reduced funding limited RICH’s capacity to conduct the survey this year, he added. As a result, HOPE volunteered to redesign and conduct the GR survey in order to ensure its continued existence.
Redesigned survey tries to ask the right questions
“We’ve decided there are some changes we wanted to make to” the GR survey, Zimmerman said.
In redesigning the survey, the group changed the types of questions presented, said Morgan Talbot ’18, advocacy director for HOPE. Surveys in previous years have asked participants to identify the largest and most pressing issues facing homeless individuals, according to the 2016 survey. Access to affordable housing was the most pressing issue for almost half of those surveyed in 2016.
That pattern repeated itself in previous years, Talbot said, adding that it made the survey increasingly less useful in providing new information. “Part of the criticism of the survey in the past was that we tend to get some of the same responses every year,” he said.
“This year, we’re focusing much more on concrete legislative actions that have been discussed previously by advocacy groups,” Talbot added.
At All Saints Church Nov. 14, Talbot asked homeless individuals to choose three out of 10 possible legislative actions and prioritize them. Proposals on the list included making “it illegal for landlords to deny housing to someone based on source of income or having a Housing Choice (Section 8) Voucher” and funding “free child care for homeless families with children.” Other survey questions asked for ideas and opportunities not listed, as well as basic demographic information.
By the end of the night, Talbot, Zimmerman and other HOPE volunteers had collected roughly 20 surveys.
HOPE has made several other changes to the survey collection method this year. For example, the group now conducts data collection in Spanish, as well as other languages if possible.
In addition, surveys have been collected in other parts of Providence as well as Pawtucket, Cranston, Westerly and Woonsocket, and group members will travel to Newport and Middletown later this week, Zimmerman said.
By expanding the survey’s geographical range, HOPE has given advocacy groups a new asset in lobbying reluctant State House representatives. Non-profit groups and student activists hope to present representatives with data from their own districts and constituents, which should make lobbying more effective, said Will Gomberg ’20, one of two outreach coordinators for HOPE.
Legislative lobbying finds success
The group will analyze the data and present it to a meeting of non-profit groups at RICH’s headquarters in the coming weeks, Talbot said. The State House session begins in January and ends in June, and HOPE and other Rhode Island nonprofits will base their lobbying campaigns off of the results of the survey, Zimmerman said.
“We’re aiming to get about 150 to 200 surveys” before Dec. 5, Gomberg said. But HOPE, with the assistance of teams from other student and off-campus groups, has far surpassed that number. As of Monday, the group had collected about 250 surveys and aims to have 300 by the end of the week, Zimmerman said.
HOPE has participated in several effective lobbying campaigns in the past. In spring 2017, HOPE students were active lobbyists and participants in the successful movement to restore the no-fare bus pass for low-income seniors and individuals with disabilities. The group also canvassed for an affordable housing bond initiative in 2016 and lobbied successfully for a homeless bill of rights in 2012, The Herald previously reported.
“We always partner with existing community organizations if they’re already doing the work,” Zimmerman said.
Student outreach tackles case management
Students are often limited in their lobbying abilities by their academic time commitments, both Zimmerman and Gomberg said. In spite of those commitments, both outreach and advocacy have continued to grow. The HOPE outreach staff travels in teams of four or five, six nights a week on three different routes. Those routes travel through downtown Providence, the south side of Providence and Pawtucket.
HOPE works through two primary avenues — direct service, called outreach, and political action, called advocacy. The group has expanded in recent years, growing from 45 members in spring 2017 to 75 members this semester. That has increased HOPE’s capacity for both direct service and advocacy, Zimmerman said.
Some students are also beginning to build “case management” skills, Gomberg said. For example, a group of HOPE students recently received a training on how to help homeless individuals obtain various forms of identification in order to successfully navigate the application process for housing vouchers.
HOPE’s growth into case management, expanded outreach and new survey leadership all stem from a central motivating mission, Zimmerman said. “HOPE’s goal is to eradicate homelessness. … We believe that direct service isn’t enough by itself. There has to be a structural aspect to make change in the community,” he said.
At the meal site Nov. 14, Zimmerman spoke with Reverend Sullivan at the doorway during a pause in the collection of surveys. Systemic change to the problem of homelessness “would be my dream,” Sullivan said. “Society as a whole needs to grasp that there are those who have literally nothing.”
A few days before the trip to the City Meal Site, Zimmerman explained his dedication to HOPE while rain lashed against the window. “Once a week, you take two hours … and you have conversations with people who are literally in this weather living on the street,” Zimmerman said. It “reinforces how much more we have to do on behalf of the Providence community.”
Courtesy of The Brown Daily Herald
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