News & Event
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Every day, Amos House tries to turn a tragedy into a miracle, knowing that someone might fall many times before they can pick themselves up.
Jerome Hines was one of those individuals that the Pine Street facility rescued, although the nonprofit would say that Hines did all of the hard work.
Hines, who is 59 and lives in East Providence, had been in and out of prison, smoking crack, robbing houses, when he turned up at Amos House in 2008. He enrolled in a recovery program at Amos, relapsed, returned and got sober for good.
Ten years later, he’s the center’s dining house manager and a part-time supervisor at Harrington Hall, a homeless shelter in Cranston
“This place didn’t just save my life,” he said Wednesday. “It saves lives. You know how many people I’ve brought to this place whose lives have been saved?”
Amos House gave Hines back more than his sobriety. It gave him a job, a place to live. It even helped him get his children back.
On Wednesday, the soup kitchen on Pine Street does what it does best: serving a hot meal, in this case, 500 turkey dinners, to whomever walked through its doors. By 11:30 a.m., the line stretched down the street and the kitchen was hopping, with a half-dozen volunteers dishing out stuffing and cranberry sauce, potatoes and apple pie.
Eileen Hayes, the president and CEO of Amos House, used to counsel clients who had eating disorders. Nothing, she said, compares to feeding people. This past year, Amos House has served 120,000 meals. Amos House not only runs the largest soup kitchen in Rhode Island, it provides housing, addiction recovery and job training.
Kevin Dwares volunteers every Wednesday. A retired federal employee, he also volunteers weekly at Hasbro Children’s Hospital and Meals on Wheels. When his 20-year-old son died of leukemia in 2004, Dwares had two choices: he could fall apart or he could honor his son’s memory by giving something back.
“I volunteer because it makes my heart feel good,” he said. “When you come here, it makes you realize that you could be one paycheck away from being homeless.”
Kevin Burton also came to Amos House looking for redemption. Now he works in the kitchen and lives in a men’s shelter run by Amos House.
“People come in the door who are just like me,” said Burton, 63, of Cranston. “You start to believe you’re no good anymore. But these people here, they say, ‘You can do this’ and they say it over and over again.”
Posted:Aug 18, 2018 at 3:00 PM
Rhode Island has long fallen short in meeting its housing needs, and it’s gotten to the point where no matter where you turn, the numbers are bleak.
The state’s per capita housing production was the lowest in the nation last year, and it’s been either the lowest or one of the lowest for more than a decade.
The state’s rental vacancy rate, a measure of how many apartments are available, was tied for lowest in the nation last year, and it too has been among the lowest for more than a decade.
The number of R.I. households that are “cost burdened” — struggling to make ends meet because more than 30 percent of their annual income goes to housing costs — has been rising. More than half of renter households and more than one in three households with a mortgage were cost-burdened in 2015, the latest year for which data is available.
And then we have the sobering numbers that HousingWorks RI has been sharing for many years, which show that a family with a median Rhode Island income can afford a median-priced home in just a few of the state’s 39 cities and towns.
No wonder more than three out of four Rhode Islanders now see housing affordability as a serious issue, according to a recent WPRI 12/Roger Williams University poll.
Yet, our state leaders have done little. The most notable contribution, perhaps, has been a series of bonds that have been placed on the ballot and approved by voters. These bonds have provided $125 million since 2006, helping to produce nearly 3,000 subsidized, income-restricted “affordable” homes. But even here, Rhode Island falls short.
While its per capita investment in this housing was $8.46 in 2016, the spending in many states was much higher. To name just two examples, our neighbors in Connecticut spent $76.98, and our neighbors in Massachusetts spent $99.72.
If one thing is clear, it should be this: Rhode Island has to do more if it is going to make progress in solving its housing shortage.
If the moral argument for more housing isn’t a strong motivator, our elected leaders should remember that solving this problem would only help the state’s economy, especially if we are serious about adding jobs and luring new companies — whose employees will need housing.
Important as that is, a 2016 study from Rhode Island Housing concluded that the state is not building enough homes. The study found that with the growth of the state’s millennial and senior populations, Rhode Island will need to add 3,500 housing units each year through 2025. But builders are not even coming close to meeting that number.
One thing Rhode Islanders can do is to support more housing bonds to follow up on those they have already approved. But the state also needs to make it easier for builders to build. This requires looking at zoning regulations, building permit fees and other factors that add to the cost of building a new home.
The need for more homes is there, and given the trends and the state’s desire to rebuild its economy, the need is only going to grow. That means Rhode Island’s leaders should be taking steps to make sure the state’s housing needs are being met.
There is no reason that Rhode Island should be settling for last place.
Courtesy of Providence Journal
Posted:Feb 9, 2018 at 7:53 PM
Updated:Feb 10, 2018 at 12:04 AM
For 11 years, United Way’s 2-1-1 has been helping Rhode Islanders in need, handling 194,735 calls in 2017, many from people seeking financial help, information about health services, or food.
“Hello. United Way. 2-1-1. May I help you?”
Each time call center specialist Tony Medeiros answers the phone, he has no idea what awaits him on the other end of the line. United Way of Rhode Island’s 2-1-1 call center provides round-the-clock free assistance to those looking for help finding affordable food, housing, health care, transportation and more.
Twice last week, Medeiros took calls from people who were suicidal. Sometimes the most desperate calls he gets, he says, are from people seeking help with a gambling addiction. Others need help finding affordable housing.
One woman calls regularly to ask the time or the temperature. Medeiros thinks she’s lonely, so he’s started asking her about her day.
“That’s OK. She just needs to talk to somebody for a few minutes,” he said recently.
The call center acts as a one-stop-shop for resources. Its workers are trained on the offerings and applications processes of various social service and health-care programs, as well as church groups, nonprofits, shelters and more. When a person calls with one problem, call-center workers will talk through their living conditions to make them aware of other services that could also be of help.
On Sunday, United Way celebrates National 2-1-1 Day. United Way’s 2-1-1 service has been available in Rhode Island 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, since 2007.
“I listen to their story,” said Medeiros, whose shift starts at 6 a.m. “They might be saying one thing but there’s more going on. ... Sometimes people are in a domestic violence situation and they don’t even recognize it.”
United Way 2-1-1 took 194,735 calls in Rhode Island last year, a slight decrease from the 195,344 calls in 2016. But call specialists are finding higher anxiety among callers and are spending considerably more time on each call. In December 2016, the average call time was a little more than two minutes. In December 2017, the average call time was 5½ minutes, the organization reports.
Nationally, 2-1-1 answered a total of more than 14.3 million requests for help in 2017. The service is available for 94 percent of Americans, according to a spokesman for the United Way of Rhode Island, and in most parts of Canada.
Sandi Connors, executive vice president and director of strategic marketing and communications at United Way, said the trends in Rhode Island calls are reflected at 2-1-1 centers across the country. It’s not yet clear what is driving the changes, she said.
Some of the most difficult calls come from homeless families seeking shelter, Connors said. Some 72 families are currently on a waiting list for space in a family shelter.
“The hardest days are when we get the calls we can’t help,” Connors said.
Those days are often countered by others in which workers feel they’ve made a difference.
Program manager Tina Pearl remembered a call that came in to the hotline on Thanksgiving from an elderly woman who said there was an “uninvited guest” in her home. She had already called the police, who checked out the situation and determined there wasn’t an intruder. But the call center worker and Pearl determined they should also make a home visit.
It turned out there wasn’t anyone else in the home, Pearl said. The woman hadn’t eaten but she thought someone was coming over for dinner. She was confused, suffering from dementia and other health problems. They were eventually able to get her to the hospital.
“That’s why we go to work every day,” Pearl said.
2-1-1 calls, by the numbers
Here are some of the most common reasons Rhode Islanders called 2-1-1 in 2017.
Financial assistance: 162,936
Health information: 112,411
On any given day, more than a thousand Rhode Islanders are living on the streets – in cars, in bus or train stations, in shelters, or sleeping on the floor at the home or apartment of a relative or friend. On any given day, thousands of Rhode Islanders are clinging to civility, living in housing they can’t afford, foregoing food, medicines or healthcare insurance.
This is the picture of homelessness and the lack of affordable housing in Rhode Island, a picture painted by executives from Kids Count to homeless coalitions to agencies dedicated to providing aid to underserved Rhode Islanders.
These are issues that are also largely ignored by local and state governments because, as many acknowledge, the victims of homelessness and lack of affordable housing, are not your most prolific voters.
WhatsUpNewp has been rolling out a series of stories focusing on both the homeless and on affordable housing, hopeful to raise awareness and instill a sense of urgency throughout government. This is the second of our stories.
In our first story we focused on the affordable housing law that was passed in Rhode Island nearly three decades ago, and the fact that only five of Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns had achieved the 10 percent threshold mandated by the law.
A House of Representatives subcommittee, formed in 2016 to explore why so few communities had met the requirement, reported back this year, with perhaps its chief recommendation to extend the commission another year.
Key among its recommendations to date: “rethink what it means to meet the requirements of minimum housing”; and measure the impact that affordable housing has on communities, and the correlation between affordable housing and public health. The commission said it met eight times in two years.
A 2016 study by Housing Works for Rhode Island Housing said the state needs to add 30,000 housing units over the next nine years to meet projected needs.
“This is a very complex and nuanced issue,” said Commission Vice Chairman, Rep. Michael Morin, D-Woonsocket, in a commission press release issued a few months ago.
But there are those who fail to see the complexities, instead of seeing it as a law that’s unenforceable.
“There’s no teeth to the regulation, no penalty, no incentive,” said Stephanie Geller, senior policy analyst at RI Kids Count. “The problem is not getting better, it’s getting worse.”
In towns throughout Rhode Island “people think affordable housing will lower property values,” she said.
But Geller and others like the Johnny Cake Center’s Lee Eastborne and the Warm Center’s Russ Partridge are quick to note the cost of not having enough affordable housing is more severe illnesses, food related issues, poor school attendance and outcomes that come from families having to choose whether to pay the rent or mortgage, put enough food on the table, buy health care insurance, or buy prescription medications that could forestall more severe illnesses.
Housing Works defines affordable housing as living in housing in which you pay no more than 30 percent of your gross income on rent or mortgage payments, which meets the percentage federal guideline for “affordability.” Kids Count said some families pay as much as 60 percent of gross income for housing.
According to the Kids Count latest Fact Book, very low-income families are paying well above the 30 percent threshold in every city and town in the state. Even in Central Falls, perhaps the lowest income city in the state, low income and poverty level families are paying nearly 40 percent of their gross incomes for housing. And, in Newport, one of the five towns meeting the affordable living threshold, very low-income families pay half their monthly income for housing.
According to the Rhode Island Housing and Community Development’s 2014 report on low- and moderate-income housing by community, the latest available on line, five communities have met the minimum threshold: Central Falls, 11.83 percent; New Shoreham (Block Island), 10.63 percent; Newport, 17.13 percent; Providence, 14.79 percent; and Woonsocket, 15.89 percent. Newport, Woonsocket, Central Falls, and Providence are among 10 communities identified as communities with substantial public housing.
Statewide 8.3 percent of 445,902 housing units statewide meet the minimum. The number does not include seasonal housing.
Not surprisingly, towns with large lot size requirements have the least percentage of affordable housing. Many, like Little Compton with 0.56 percent affordable housing and two-acre minimum lots, and West Greenwich with 1.41 percent affordable housing and one acre lots, require minimum house lots of an acre or more.
Meanwhile, there are those who simply cannot afford any housing and are counted among the state’s homeless.
According to Kids Count there are 1,245 children in public schools that have been identified as homeless by the schools. Geller said the standard used by schools is the McKinney-Veto Definition of Homeless as provided by the National Center for Homeless Education.
“The term homeless children and youth,” McVinney-Vento said, “means individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence,” including children and youth living temporarily in homes with other persons due to a loss of housing; children and youth who are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds “due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations”; living in emergency or transitional shelters; or who are abandoned in hospitals.
It goes on to mention cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings.
Geller said the numbers are under reported as parents fear that by reporting children as homeless, they will be taken from them. She also noted that the 1,245 number only includes school age children.
Kids Count also uses another measure for homes, a point in time count, which tries to identify the number of homeless individuals on any single day. For January 25, 2017 for instance, on that single day, there were 1,180 individuals reported as homeless, a report compiled by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The demographic make-up includes children, families, the mentally ill, veterans, and victims of domestic violence, among others. On that day, 184 were characterized as mentally ill, 121 victims of domestic violence, 99 chronic substance abuse, and 36 unaccompanied youth, and 31 veterans.
Crossroads Rhode Island, on its web page, described the report as a “snapshot of homelessness,” and that in Rhode Island the number increased by 1.7 percent, with an “alarming” increase in “chronic homelessness,” up by 66.6 percent, and families increasing by 25 percent.
“PIT (Point in Time) counts are problematic,” Crossroads said, “in that they count people only for one night during the coldest time of year when shelters are more likely to be full. But, that is also when more people without homes double up with friends or family and are not counted.
“Most counts do not include homeless people who are incarcerated, although their numbers are significant. Enumerators cannot be expected to cover every location, especially on a cold and dark winter night, and many people living in hidden places will be missed.”
Crossroads, like so many others, said there is a lack of “stock of housing that is affordable for people at the lowest income levels. There is no effective state-wide coordinated effort focused on housing development and programs for people who are experiencing homelessness or are at-risk for homelessness.”
Crossroads is calling for a greater investment of state and federal funds for housing, “We Have to Stay Focused on Housing,” Crossroads said, “Housing is the only solution to homelessness.”
WhatsUpNewp was recently awarded an Impact-Designed Investigative Grant (I-DIG) for investigative reporting from Local Independent Online News Publishers (LION) and the Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation. What’sUpNewp, who was one of 18 grant winners across the country, is using our I-DIG grant to fund this project on Affordable Housing.
Courtesy of WhatsUpNewp
Updated: Apr 16, 2018 10:30 PM EDT
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) -- Rhode Island's largest homeless shelter now has far fewer people than it did a year and a half ago.
Courtesy of WRPI 12
The inability of people – especially young people starting out in their careers with less than median salaries and high college debt – to afford a place to live can deprive a region of its economic lifeblood.
Barbara Fields, the subject of this week’s cover story Q&A, knows this reality intimately. She is the executive director of the R.I. Housing and Mortgage Finance Corp., known to most everyone as R.I. Housing.
While the issue of affordable housing is a complex one, Ms. Fields has a pretty simple answer: Build, build, build.
Data from a 2016 study by HousingWorks RI at Roger Williams University supports that solution. From 2008-2012, 40.1 percent of all Rhode Island households were considered cost burdened, that is they spent more than 30 percent of their annual gross income on rent/mortgage, insurance, taxes and utilities. That total represented an increase of 44.4 percent from the number of cost-burdened households in 2000.
The 2017 Housing Fact Book from HousingWorks makes the point a different way. Households earning the state’s median income of $56,852 in 2016 could afford the median-priced single-family home in only four of Rhode Island’s municipalities.
Recent news about the rising prices of homes in the Ocean State makes it unlikely that trend is retreating.
If the state’s leaders are serious about creating an environment for future economic growth, they should put affordable housing on the short list of important issues to tackle. Because if they don’t, Rhode Island may find fewer talented people wanting to come here to work and live.
Courtesy of Providence Business News
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Residents and advocates on Monday night had the chance to voice their opinions about the redevelopment of Barbara Jordan II, a 74-unit affordable housing project that has been vacant for about two years.
The units, which are spread across 27 buildings in South Providence, fell into deplorable conditions after years of neglect and residents were forced to leave. Rhode Island Housing took over ownership of the properties and will eventually seek out a developer to rebuild and rehabilitate the units.
In the meantime, Camiros, a Chicago-based consulting agency, is leading a public engagement process to hear from community members about their hopes for the project.
“We want to make sure that low-income people have affordable housing,” said Malchus Mills, vice chairman of DARE, a Providence organization that advocates for low-income residents. “We don’t want people to be cost-burdened.”
Rhode Island Housing has said it will ensure one-for-one replacement of the 74 affordable units, but part of what the agency wants to know is whether community members think the units should be made available for people with very low incomes, extremely low incomes, or a mix of income ranges, said Adam Rosa, principal for Camiros, at Monday night’s meeting, which was hosted at Amos House.
The median family income for the Providence-Fall River metro area is $80,600, according to 2018 data from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Low income is defined as 80 percent of the median, or $64,250 for a family of four. Very low income is 50 percent of the median, or $40,150 for a family of four, and extremely low income is $25,100 for a family of four.
Ward 10 City Councilman Luis Aponte pointed out that the median income for South Providence is much lower than the median income for Providence as a whole, because the East Side, where many wealthy residents live, skews the numbers.
In Upper South Providence, where the Barbara Jordan II properties are located, the median household income between 2012 and 2016 was $16,000, according to the Opportunity Atlas, an interactive tool published by the Census that provides detailed data for census tracts across America.
Rosa said developers are bound by the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s guidelines, which are calculated on a regional basis, but local numbers can inform what income ranges Barbara Jordan II should target.
“Should it be 100 percent extremely low income? Should it be a mixture?” he said. “We want your input here tonight what that mix should be.”
Nestor Jose Moreno, 55, of Providence, who attended Monday night’s meeting, said he participates in one of Amos House’s programs and lives in communal housing sponsored by the agency. He used to live in a high-rise on Curtis Street but was evicted. He is on disability and years-old misdemeanors on his criminal record have prevented him from finding new housing.
A future Barbara Jordan II development could provide him the chance to get an apartment and regain some of his independence, he said.
“I want to live by myself,” he said.
During the meeting, attendees were asked to work together in groups and list their priorities for the Barbara Jordan II redevelopment.
Most groups agreed that increasing the number of available units was their top priority.
Redeveloping Barbara Jordan II will restore a sense of community, a sense of love and a sense of hope to the neighborhood, said Sen. Harold Metts, D-Providence, who attended Monday night’s meeting.
“People need a decent place to live,” he said. “They need a nice environment for their families.”
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