News & Event
By James Merolla
Haunts for the Homeless Director Jef Benson presents the charity’s first donation check to WARM Center homeless shelter’s Executive Director Russ Partridge.Jef Benson was once a homeless addict who lost everything. He lived in a van in a used car lot, and in a shed behind a friend’s house in the middle of winter.
“I lost my marriage, my home, my belongings, dignity, and self-respect,” he said. “I lost friends and even family members. Then, in 2006, I got clean. I was in Pennsylvania in 2010 and was hired in Rhode Island to help design a haunt. I ended up staying here and we started ‘Haunts for the Homeless.’”
Haunts for the Homeless comes to Fort Adams State Park in the 14th annual Fortress of Nightmares later month with the new “Spirits Rising” haunt, which is currently under construction. The build comes via Mohegan Sun casino, where Benson works in the sports and entertainment division.
“Fort Adams and [creative director] Dave Prata welcomed us with open arms,” he said. “They already have an established attraction, Fortress of Nightmares, and we will be adding our haunt to that. They have been so helpful in the setup and building of the haunt, adding us to their marketing, etc. I’m really looking forward to us helping each other. Our haunt brings a new addition to what they have, while they are more than helping us by giving Spirits Rising a home and a chance to help those in need.”
Haunts for the Homeless was established in 2013, but it became stagnant. “We raised some money here and there and donated to a local shelter, but it wasn’t going anywhere,” Benson said. “We wanted to take the charity in a new direction. This year, we’ve changed board members, I became the director and we are reestablishing [ourselves].
“We wanted to have a haunted house that brings awareness to the homeless. Other haunts give to charities, but Spirits Rising was built specifically for a charitable cause. We did a GoFundMe campaign to raise the money for the haunted house and then, basically from out of the blue, we ended up acquiring a haunted house from Mohegan Sun Casino’s Special Events department,” he said. “We’re still doing a GoFundMe campaign to fill in the gaps of everything that we didn’t get from the casino, such as props and maybe additions to the house.”
To donate, visit Fortress of Nightmares or go to gofundme.com/spirits-rising-haunted-house.
Courtesy of Newport This Week
A recently released housing report for Rhode Island shows that Newport is second only to Woonsocket in the percentage of residents who are classified as low- or moderate-income.
According to the report by Rhode Island Housing, a privately funded public purpose corporation created by the General Assembly in 1973, in 2016 nearly 15.5 percent of all housing units in Newport were dedicated to low- or moderate-income individuals, slightly lower than Woonsocket’s 15.90 percent. In contrast, Middletown was at 5.4 percent, Jamestown at 4.39 percent and Portsmouth at 2.83 percent.
Newport City Councilwoman Kate Leonard has often spoken out on the issue of housing and the need for affordable units to be spread across the entire state. When asked about the information in the Rhode Island Housing report she said, "I question their numbers, I have been told that Newport has the highest amount of affordable housing in Rhode Island.”
Rhode Island dictates that 10 percent of municipal housing stock be for those in low- or moderate-income brackets. As of 2016, Newport was at 17 percent. The majority of those units are in Newport Heights, Bayside Village, Broadway West,
Festival Field, Rolling Green Village, and Park Holm, where units are being built as replacement housing for those units demolished due to age and to decrease the density of the neighborhood.
The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) defines low-income households as those whose income does not exceed 80 percent of the median income for the area, with adjustments for smaller or larger families. HUD defines moderate-income households as those whose incomes are between 81 percent and 95 percent of the median income for the area.
A separate report released by HousingWorksRI at Roger Williams University presents a more in-depth survey of area housing statistics and trends. According to the report, 41 percent of Newport residents own their home, while 59 percent rent. In Middletown, the percentage of homeowners versus renters is 53-47. Both communities fall short of the statewide average of 60 percent ownership versus 40 percent renters. Even at 60 percent, Rhode Island has the lowest rate of homeownership in New England, and ranks 46th nationally.
The 2017 Housing Fact Book report, by HousingWorksRI, serves as a clearinghouse of information about housing affordability in Rhode Island, connecting that information with what residents have on economic development, education, and health.
The book offers a number of facts on housing ownership and rental. For example, 58 percent of the housing inventory in Newport is multifamily, compared to 36 percent in Middletown. The state average is 44 percent. Middletown exceeds the state average of 56 percent in the number of single-family homes, at 64 percent, with Newport at 42 percent.
Across the state, HousingWorksRI reports that Central Falls and Providence (excluding the East Side of the city) are the only two municipalities where households with income under $50,000 can find affordable housing; housing is considered affordable when a household spends 30 percent or less of its income on housing costs. In Newport, where the average rent of a two-bedroom apartment or home is $1,508, a household would need an annual income of $60,320 to meet the affordability threshold. In Middletown, where the average rent is $1,407, a household would need an annual income of $56,280.
The median single-family home price in Newport is $446,500, which translates to an annual household income of $113,419 to be affordable, while in Middletown the median price is $352,500, with $95,815 being the threshold of annual household income.
With discussions ongoing about attracting new businesses to land that will be available for development after the Pell Bridge realignment is complete, along with what some see as the difficulty in getting on and off Aquidneck Island, housing will continue to be a major influencing factor for new businesses, but perhaps for education as well. Leonard said, “we have 140 affordable units under construction in Park Holm, and I have concerns what additional impact that will have on our schools.”
– Contributions by B. Udoma
Courtesy of Newport This Week
By Christopher Allen
Data reporting that Middletown trails only Providence in the number of students who are classified as “homeless” in Rhode Island was a principal topic at the May 17 Middletown School Committee meeting.
The data, which was disseminated by Rhode Island Kids Count, a child advocacy organization founded in 1994, numbered the amount of homeless Middletown students at 115. But Vice-Superintendent Linda Savastano disputed that number.
“We upload our data every single day,” she said. “Most days, when I pull [data], I’m not seeing a number [as high as 115].”
She said that the number is usually less than 100, which includes students in transition or those who were only in the district for a short period.
Earlier this year, Newport This Week reported a spike in reported homeless students in Newport schools (See “Newport Schools See Spike in Homelessness,” NTW, Jan. 4, 2018). The most recent Kids Count data ranked Newport fifth, after Providence, Middletown, Warwick and Woonsocket.
The committee reported to the council that the current number is 98, in Middletown, who are “identified as homeless or in foster care.” However, according to an email from Kids Count Communications Manager Katherine Chu, their compiled data “no longer includes children in foster care.” These students, under the new Department of Education guidelines, are now listed in a separate category.
“The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has provisions to protect and support school stability and success of students in foster care,” wrote Chu.
In 2016, the law was amended by Congress, removing “children awaiting foster care” from the definition of “homeless children and youths.”
A majority of these students, Savastano said, are categorized as “doubled-up,” meaning they are living or staying with extended family or friends, adding that because of the transitory state of many students, the number that is reported to the Rhode Island Department of Education tends to fluctuate.
Reporting guidelines changed since the transition from No Child Left Behind, a 2002 law that increased federal oversight of education, to ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) signed in to law in 2015.
“There are very specific defined categories that [Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE)] asks us to report,” Savastano said.
Committee Vice-Chair Theresa Spengler added that although not counted by the state as homeless, children in foster care should be considered in the conversation. “I think it’s important to explain that there are children in foster care. And they do have the right to be educated… Hopefully, it’s a temporary situation, but it may not be. It may be permanent.”
Federal money received as part of the McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth Act is an important funding source to help the district's population of homeless students, Savastano said, and that because about half of these students are identified as needing special education, state funding according to the current formula is increased in kind.
The federal McKinney-Vento law, passed in 1987, defines homeless children as “those who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” Examples beside being doubled-up include children residing in motels, trailers or temporary shelters.
Reached by phone, RIDE Communications Officer, Megan Geoghegan, said Middletown is one of five districts that receive grants to assist in servicing their homeless students, along with Newport, North Kingston, Warwick and Woonsocket. “The numbers can fluctuate day to day,” she said. “Middletown is probably on the higher side because of the shelter.”
McKinney-Vento stipulates that children in temporary housing situations hold the right to attend school either in their home district or in the district they are currently residing in. So, a Middletown student who is living outside of the district still can commute back to Middletown if so chosen.
“Often the advocate wants to keep them here even if they are in another town…they want to keep them in their home school,” Savastano said.
The logistics and cost of moving students transitioning from a district or traveling to their home district can also pose a challenge. According to Geoghegan, DCYF (Department of Child and Family Services) does its best to provide transportation when possible. “But that is not a long-term solution,” she said.
“There are a lot of different categories that people don’t normally think of as homeless,” committee chair Kellie Simeone said. “But that being said, it’s still a bit surprising that we would have the second highest.”
Savastano said that the district will continue to search and apply for every possible federal, state and local grant. The district was awarded a McKinney-Vento Grant of $49,714 during the 2017-2018 school year.
The next school committee meeting is scheduled for June 21.
In other matters
.The committee shared a document containing answers to questions from the Town Council following their joint session on April 28 to discuss the upcoming budget adoption for fiscal year 2018-2019.
The following actions were approved:
.A director of finance policy revision
.Bids for Aquidneck and Forest Avenue shingle roof projects
.Procurement of electricity and natural gas from Direct Energy
.A reduction in force of 12 teachers
By ohtadmin | on March 21, 2019
To the Editor:
The need for affordable senior housing has been on the Middletown Town Council docket since April 2017. Early in 2018, the Town Council met with a local non-profit provider as well as HousingWorksRI to discuss options.
Subsequently, the Town Council formed a Senior Housing Sub-Committee which, after multiple meetings, finally recommended in December 2018 that the Town Council hire a consultant to advise the town about developing senior housing units.
At the March 4, 2019 meeting, after reviewing the proposed Feasibility Study, Town Council voted not to authorize it, based on consensus that $22,500 to compile information in 4 months that was already available was not a good use of funds, not to mention the anticipated 2 to 3 years for the project to actually get underway,
Several points provided impetus for a change in direction:
1. If the town desires to use residency as a criterion for establishing wait lists, then it would be ineligible for grants and tax credits and would have to rely on taxpayer dollars to subsidize the costs of construction and rent.
2. The town is not going to use taxpayer money to build and operate an affordable senior housing project on its own.
3. A non-profit partner typically has connections within the community and generally keeps money in the project.
4. A for-profit partner generally takes money out of the project.
These points led to the reorganization of the Town Council Senior Housing Sub-Committee which would again review the options, but this time within a two month deadline for more concrete recommendations. At that point, the Town Council would meet with potential partners and, hopefully, get the project underway.
The important point to be made is that the Middletown Town Council agreed that a decision needed to be made sooner rather than later, and it initiated action to achieve that goal.
Barbara A. VonVillas, Ph.D.
All these smaller units would be more affordable for moderate-income individuals, according to the justification behind the development plan.
Courtesy of Newport Daily News
Updated: Apr 29, 2019 at 5:26 PM
Attempt to give younger adults preference for planned new apartments raises legal issue.
Behan said he would draft a resolution in line with recommendations of the council that would not conflict with fair housing laws, for consideration by council members at their May 8 regular meeting.
Courtesy of The Newport Daily News
By Matt Sheley | Staff Writer, April 6, 2018
NEWPORT, R.I. — Aquidneck Island is an expensive place to live — on that most people can agree. But what to do about it?
Members of the local legislative delegation told a crowd of about 100 people Thursday morning at the local Community College of Rhode Island campus they’re more than aware of the reality — and more needs to be done to help make Newport County affordable.
They agreed it’s not an easy issue to tackle, especially since the area is such a desirable place to live, and finding solutions will require creativity.
The discussion came up during the third annual Newport County Legislative Forum, sponsored by the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission in partnership with The Newport Daily News and CCRI.
“It’s such an important discussion,” said Sen. Dawn Euer, D-Newport. “There’s nothing more fundamental to a family than being able to go home and have a roof over your head at night.”
“One of the things that I’ve been thinking about is I would love to see a partnership between members of the assembly delegation and the City Council leadership in Newport,” said Rep. Lauren Carson, D-Newport. “I think that solutions are state-based and municipally based and I would encourage a task force or a conversation around a real diagnosis of what the problems are and some real brainstorming about how the state and municipalities can work better.”
According to statistics in the 2017 Housing Fact Book put out by HousingWorksRI, homebuyers need to make at least $113,419 annually to buy a median-priced home in Newport. The figures were $135,731 in Jamestown, $95,815 in Middletown, $95,670 in Portsmouth and $70,231 in Tiverton.
To “affordably” rent a two-bedroom apartment in Newport, people need to bring in $60,320, compared to $66,040 in Jamestown, $56,280 in Middletown, $68,560 in Portsmouth and $57,280 in Tiverton.
The report shows that a big part of the problem is that except for Newport, none of the communities in Newport County meet the 10 percent goal for low- or moderate-income housing. HousingWorksRI statistics show that 15.3 percent of housing in Newport meets that criterion, but only 4.4 percent in Jamestown, 5.4 percent in Middletown, 2.8 percent in Portsmouth and 5.1 percent in Tiverton.
Rep. Kenneth Mendonca, R-Portsmouth, agreed something has to be done or Newport County will continue to lose population. Among the ideas he suggested was getting creative with zoning and loosening density rules for suitable properties. He also suggested the town of Portsmouth look into the former Navy tank farm properties along Defense Highway for affordable housing.
“We live in an area that’s highly desirable, so you have a lot of short-term rentals, which drives up the costs and the price of homes, which makes it very difficult,” Mendonca said. “We know we’re an aging population, that it’s important that we retain our youth or that we attract our youth into our communities. As the prices drive up, it makes it harder for them to have a starter home here on the island.”
Legislators participating in the forum were Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown; Rep. James Seveney, D-Portsmouth; Euer; Carson; Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown; and Mendonca.
Moderator Neil Steinberg of the Rhode Island Foundation said schedule conflicts prevented Reps. Marvin Abney, D-Newport; Dennis Canario, D-Portsmouth; Susan Donovan, D-Bristol; and Jay Edwards, D-Tiverton; and Sen. Walter Felag, D-Warren, from attending.
The group dug into several weighty issues, including ways to improve mass transportation and support for Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposal to spend $250 million in bond money to improve school facilities.
During a question-and-answer session, the panel was asked questions about proposal to ban semiautomatic rifles, the opioid crisis, the Base Realignment and Closure Process for Naval Station Newport and other topics.
Ruggiero said she supports Raimondo’s school bond proposal. She said anyone who’s been through the schools knows most of them need more work than the host communities can afford.
“We have not passed, in the state of Rhode Island, a school construction bond in almost 30 years,” Ruggiero said. “Think about that. That’s like two generations of kids going through these schools and I say that because if you look at Massachusetts, they have passed seven school construction bonds in the past 10 years.”
DiPalma said he too supports the bond, but tweaks are needed. He said the way the reimbursement formula is done now, it hurts fiscally responsible communities like Middletown that are already working to fix their schools.
“I do support the bond. We need it …,” DiPalma said. “But before I can support it 100 percent, the amendment needs to be there so that the communities I represent can benefit like the rest of the communities across the state. We don’t want to penalize anybody.”
For Seveney, streamlining the work-certification process for military spouses is an often-overlooked item the state should make more of a priority.
In his time in the General Assembly, Seveney said, he’s heard from a number of constituents who’ve been unable to get back to work because they don’t have the proper certification in Rhode Island, even though they have active certifications in other states. A former Navy officer, Seveney said his own wife — a teacher — dealt with such a situation.
“She has a master’s degree in early childhood education from Virginia and it took her 18 months (after moving to Rhode Island) before she was qualified for a full-time teaching job in the state of Rhode Island,” Seveney said.
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