News & Event
Providence, RI – RIHousing Executive Director Barbara Fields has been appointed Secretary/Treasurer of the National Council of State Housing Agencies (NCSHA), the agency announced today. Fields was appointed to serve a one-year term on the NCHSA Executive Board at its annual meeting last week.
“Today, Rhode Island and the nation are facing a housing crisis,” said Fields. “I am honored to be elected to serve on the board of the National Council of State Housing Finance Agencies, and have the opportunity to work with them to create and execute policies that will help address that crisis.”
“The housing finance agencies (HFAs) that make up the NCHSA are a strong and vibrant network that can deliver federal resources and leverage private resources to meet the current crisis and build stronger, healthier communities across America,” Fields added.
Since assuming her current role at RIHousing in 2015, the agency has significantly expanded it initiatives in homeownership, development and mortgage servicing, adding the State of Maine as customer, among others. It has also registered improvements in its bond ratings and greatly expanded its partnerships in the community. Fields previously served on NCSHA’s Board in 2015 and brings nearly three decades of experience in expanding access to housing, building strong communities, and championing economic development efforts to her new role as Secretary/Treasurer.
NCSHA is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization created by the nation’s state Housing Finance Agencies (HFAs) more than 40 years ago. Its mission is to advance, through advocacy and education, the efforts of the nation’s state HFAs and their partners. NCSHA’s members are the HFAs of every state, the District of Columbia, New York City, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as over 300 affiliate members in the housing finance field. The (Executive) Board is responsible for setting goals and developing strategies to further NCSHA’s initiatives.
RIHousing works to ensure that all people who live in Rhode Island can afford a healthy, attractive home that meets their needs. RIHousing provides loans, grants, education and assistance to help Rhode Islanders find, rent, buy, build and keep a good home. Created by the General Assembly in 1973, RIHousing is a self-sustaining corporation and receives no state funding for operations.
By Mary MacDonald | April 27, 2018 6:30 am
R.I. Housing and Mortgage Finance Corp. is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year in a position of financial strength, says Executive Director Barbara Fields.
It has created programs to assist first-time homeowners, expanded its servicing of mortgages to include those generated by MaineHousing and emerged from the Great Recession with a surplus of financial assets.
But it is working against a backdrop of unaffordability. Half of all renters and 30 percent of homeowners in Rhode Island are housing-cost burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their take-home income on rent and utilities.
Fields has been executive director of the quasi-public agency since January 2015. She previously was the New England regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the director of the Local Initiatives Support Corp. in Providence.
What’s the best way for Rhode Island to increase access to affordable housing?
“Build, build, build,” she said.
How has the mission of R.I. Housing changed over the past 45 years? R.I. Housing was established by the General Assembly in 1973 as a public corporation of the state. We have an independent existence from the state, although they exercise a central control over our board. Our primary purpose was to encourage investment of private funds for the development of housing for low- and moderate-income persons, and to function as a source of capital for affordable-housing development. We were basically set up to be the state’s housing bank at a time when many other states were doing this. Today, there are 53 housing finance agencies [nationally].
Within Rhode Island, what is your share of home loan origination? Last year, we did 13 percent of the mortgages in the state. Origination … is only 15 percent of our business. Eighty-five percent of our business comes from working with 40 brokers and lenders and we consider them, obviously, critical and important partners. The No. 1 is [Coastway Community Bank]. They help bring us business. Housing is economic development. We help support local businesses. … Also, we were set up to bring private money in to help people get into home ownership. We go to Wall Street and float taxable and tax-exempt bonds, both for single-family and multifamily.
Since the [Great Recession], what has changed in our business is we also sell in the secondary market. We get a warehouse line of credit. We work with three or four banks. We purchase the mortgages and when we get enough, we bundle them and we sell them in the secondary market as securitized mortgages.
What’s the benefit of doing that? The interest rates have been extremely low. There are key Rhode Island officials … who got their first mortgages at RIHousing. [Former Auditor General] Ernie Almonte in 1982 or 1983 bought [his] first house. The rates were 15-16 percent and we could get you 12 [percent]. We forget. In a video on our website he stands in front of his first house. That speaks to what our major focus and mission is. People who are early in their career, buying a home and setting roots in the community. Last year was a banner year. We did almost 1,800 mortgages. The average age of someone who got a mortgage through RIHousing last year was 37.
Is there any focus this year for the organization? Rental apartments for working families, working individuals and a lot more seniors. We have a growing senior population. … [Recently], we got the first-ever Capital Magnet Fund. We got one of the largest in the country. It’s from the U.S. Department of Treasury. It’s $4.7 million and it will help us on a key focus. … We run a lot of federal programs on behalf of the state. One of them is the federal low-income housing tax credit. … There are two sets of credits. One is a deeper subsidy, called the 9 percent. It’s highly competitive. We’re doing as much as we possibly can with what we get. The other, which is a shallower subsidy [of 4 percent] that has to be used with our first mortgage, that is limited by the state’s bond capacity. We are not tapped out, and we would love to do more of those deals. And produce more rental housing and preserve housing that exists. [With] that Capital Magnet, we’ll be able to fill that hole, between the 4 percent and the 9 percent.
What is the profile of your mortgage borrower? The average household income for the homeowners we served last year was … about $66,000 to $67,000. That’s teachers who may be in for a few years, certified accountants, nursing assistants, construction workers. This is the heart and soul of what makes up our middle class. And the average sale price was just under $200,000. And I’m proud of the fact that 27 percent of our mortgages are reaching the minority community. We’re seeing rising prices, so some of that rise is good, it means our economy is getting better. … One of the challenges is … just having more housing built in the state.
You’ve touched on the lack of inventory in single-family homes. What is the solution? How do we get more inventory? Build, build, build.
How? There are different pieces. Some of them we’re beginning to explore: if there are zoning challenges and communities that aren’t interested. Personally, I’ve been going around the state for the past year. I’ve been in Barrington, Middletown, Cumberland, talking to mayors, city councilors and town councils. I would have to say, by and large, they are welcoming. Everyone at this point has a story to tell. It’s either my son won’t leave the house, [or] soon it will be my mother won’t leave the house. Or my sister-in-law’s godchild and her fiancé are looking for a house, and they can’t find it. Seniors are staying longer in their homes. They’re living longer and are in better health. That’s not freeing [housing] up.
If there is an understanding of what the issue is, why aren’t more towns creating zoning to allow more density? I think South Kingstown just did some [rezoning] along Route 1. As I say to the communities, think about your community. I’ve been out with two mayors now, I’m about to go with a third, [and I say] drive me around your city, your town, and tell me, where do you want development? Because it is likely to come, and wouldn’t you want to proactively direct it to those places? In South Kingstown, they started talking about some properties that they knew.
There is always going to be some NIMBY-ism [or “not in my backyard”], but we have not had that raised as a major issue. We’re now funding our second project in Barrington. … We have done one now in Shannock Village, in Charlestown. These are apartments for families, most earning between $30,000 and $50,000 a year. Anyone can apply. But mostly you get people from your community. When we run the numbers in these communities, usually you find 20 percent of current residents would be eligible. … The most important thing to understand is there isn’t one type of housing that we advocate for. We have high-rise buildings. We have single-family homes being built. We have duplexes. We have ground-floor retail and townhouses.
So, people may have a visual that pops into their head when they think of affordable housing. They don’t want it developed in their community because they think it’s going to be ugly? We’re smarter about how to build [today]. We think about housing as part of the community, and community is the economic life of the state. I’m a community-development person coming into housing, so I am always thinking about the connection. We always look when we are financing multifamily rental, where are the parks, where’s the bus line, where do you shop for groceries? What is it that makes a community?
People still assume millennials are living in the basement with their parents. But they’re out there buying now, they are the starter-home market. You have a variety of mortgage programs, including down-payment assistance. But they’re running into an inventory problem. Are the state’s demographics part of the problem? It’s a variety of factors. You have millennials who are now ready to buy. You have a tremendous change in the economy. We went from the second-worst unemployment rate in the country to one of the lowest. We did a 10-year study. Even if the population grows slowly, we projected it would grow at 5 percent [over 10 years]. Households will grow at 12-13 percent. People are waiting longer to marry. You have a lot of singles, or two people in a house without a child until later. So, people need more houses. People are divorcing. You have more households being created by all of these factors. Especially if you go back and see what was going on 30 years ago. The average size in public housing is smaller. Occasionally we will see a proposal come in with a four-bedroom unit or a five-bedroom unit. But we are building one, two and three [bedrooms].
There is some pushback in Providence that the new housing being constructed is primarily downtown housing not designed to accommodate families, who also need housing. Does Rhode Island need more small apartments? A healthy rental market has about a 6.5-7.5 percent rental vacancy rate, so you have turnover, you have empty units for people to come and look at. The nation is below that. Rhode Island dropped last year … to under 4 percent. And Providence is lower than the state. Providence is about 2 percent. So, we need rental apartments, as well as owner-occupied apartments. We’re in a niche, but it’s needed across the income ranges. Part of what’s increased the demand here also is people coming from the Boston area. This is an attractive place to live.
In Massachusetts, a state law called 40B seems to have more strength in getting affordable housing built in individual towns. (The law allows developers to bypass local zoning in towns or cities that have less than 10 percent of the housing stock available at affordable prices.) What is the challenge for Rhode Island’s affordable-housing requirement? FortyB has a lot more teeth. I would say, yes, we have a 10 percent law. … A [state] commission is looking at how to make it stronger.
Do you think it needs to be made stronger, to distribute affordable housing? Yes, I believe so. When you sit down and talk to a community about who would live in the housing you’re talking about, it becomes a very different story. Up here, it’s like numbers, ideas and images. Down here, it’s “Oh, it’s my best friend. It’s my brother-in-law.”
There are many Rhode Islanders who earn less than the state median, as well. I don’t care what your job is. No one makes in their first five years what they might later. We want to accommodate that. I’m sure Ernie Almonte’s salary is different today than it was 25 years ago, when we helped him buy his first house. But that was a good investment to make. It wasn’t a giveaway.
Some activist groups have recommended rent control in Providence, to dampen price escalation. Is rent control an option? My preference is to build. Supply is the approach now being done in Boston. If we can increase the supply, it helps to moderate the prices. We are also involved in several efforts to make sure we maintain the affordable units that we have, that work for people at the lowest income levels. We are very committed to preservation, whether it’s senior units or family housing. We need to preserve what we have. A lot of the housing we’re preserving is 30 years old.
Some community advocates in Providence think city incentives via tax-stabilization agreements should not be used on luxury housing. The Fane Organization tower could be the next argument over this. Should public incentives be used for luxury product? I would just say the TSA process needs to be predictable. No matter what program we run, people want predictability. In Providence, TSAs are needed so we have predictability. If you meet these requirements, you can come in.
Sen. Howard Metts, D-Providence, has raised the issue of discrimination against Section 8 tenants, that the people who hold the vouchers are having trouble finding apartments. He has proposed a law that would prevent landlords from using the source of income as a reason to block a lease. Is this an issue? Absolutely. Thirteen states have that law, including four New England states. We’re supportive of [his proposal].
Gov. Gina M. Raimondo has proposed a transfer to the state of $5 million from R.I. Housing in fiscal 2019. Can the state “scoop” your funds? The board will have to vote on it. We’re going to minimize the impact. It will have an impact, obviously, but we’re going to minimize it. This came up in January. We know the budget will be made by the end of June.
Why did you agree to do it? The governor controls the board and we’re part of the team. Someone talked to the chairman. It’s not an optimal situation. But we’re going to minimize it. We get rated by the bond-rating agencies and we’re talking with them. They will take a look at our rating. But we happen to be in a strong position.
According to your most recent annual audit, your loan-loss contribution fell dramatically in fiscal 2017. What is the story behind that? The market is doing better. People are doing better. We had tremendous losses during the recession, now we’re on a different path. We hope it continues.
The same audit indicated that the three-month delinquencies on R.I. Housing mortgages rose between 2016 and 2017. What is the reason for that? We had a slight uptick, but we are on top of it. We are below nationwide and below New England. We have new metrics we’re following and are working with our 40 brokers and lenders. We look at people’s credit scores and we look at their ratios. We meet, we want [the Federal Housing Administration] to purchase our mortgages, FHA and Fannie Mae. We have some flexibility. We instituted a credit score to raise it a little, to make sure we’re in line with the rest of the New England states.
Some people think homeownership shouldn’t necessarily be identified as a dream for everyone. That maybe we shouldn’t be encouraging homeownership. Do you have any thoughts on that? We should always have a range of housing options. … There are people who need a homeownership opportunity, they’ve saved for years. It may be a single-family, a townhouse, a condominium. We need rental opportunities. Seniors who owned a home who need a rental opportunity. Supportive opportunities, say veterans, where there are services on-site for them. And we also work on properties where we have the vouchers. Every community needs to think, at different points in people’s lives … there are different reasons why people choose types of housing.
Courtesy of Providence Business News
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
Pleased by the favorable reception the Planning Board gave the Cherry Hill Lane affordable housing development on May 9, the members of the Block Island Housing Board turned toward implementing that project and others at their May 15 meeting.
“We were thrilled with the Planning Board's support, and look forward to their decision,” Housing Board Chair Cindy Pappas said. The five-home subdivision off Cooneymus Road has been the target of neighbors' objections throughout the permitting process.
Once the Planning Board issues a decision — expected at its June meeting — the next pending issue will be preparing Requests for Proposals for construction, Pappas told the Housing Board. She added that Town Manager Ed Roberge has volunteered to help, drawing on his expertise in developing RFPs.
An infrastructure RFP comes first, and will include the access road, drainage and septic systems, wells, water lines and other underground utilities.
“We know the road standards,” Pappas continued, referring to engineering protocols for the right of way that will serve the new homes and provide a throughway to abutting properties. The septic system design is done and awaiting approval by the state. Member John Spier advised including the final landscaping in the infrastructure RFP, to ensure that the first site work will not have to be redone at the end. Landscape design has been one of the sticking points with the abutting property owners.
Whether the new homes will use modular or stick-built construction is also yet to be determined. Pappas said she will follow up with a modular home builder in Connecticut, and Spier said he will keep in contact with the project's architect, Frank Karpowicz.
Consulting on Merck project
The Housing Board is working with island property owner Josie Merck on the sale of two existing homes, converting them to affordable housing units in the process. Kim Gaffett represented Merck at the meeting to discuss agreements and covenants that will apply to those homes. The homes will be occupied by the current tenants.
“It's well in Joe [Priestley]'s hands,” Gaffett said, referring to Merck's attorney; “he has all the templates.” Gaffett said some “site-specific” conditions may be added, such as limiting mowing of open space and agreements to share maintenance costs of a well and an access road.
Other provisions could establish precedents for future affordable housing projects on the island: Requiring a homeowners' association be created — even for a two-unit development — with a member of the Housing Board serving as an “arbitrator” between the owners, in Spier's phrase; and allowing the owners' children to inherit the property, with the original covenants and conditions continuing to apply.
“We will say the kids can inherit unless told otherwise,” said Gaffett.
Pappas replied that while the Housing Board hasn't taken a position on inheritance policies, “The point is to keep the house in the affordable pool in perpetuity.”
“That's what we're striving for,” Gaffett said. “We're still optimistic that the details will all work out.” Merck's proposal will go before the Planning Board in June.
The Housing Board commented briefly on two other housing matters. Spier said of a parcel recently acquired from the Ball-O'Brien families, “We'll decide what we want to do, and then find out what we can do.”
Pappas replied that she was “still hoping for a mix of homeownership and rental housing” on that parcel, which is adjacent to the E. Searles Ball rental apartments on West Side Road. Spier noted that “homeownership tends to produce a better neighborhood than just rental.”
Pappas also reported that Town Manager Roberge had recently convened a meeting to talk about housing. “Obviously, the town is very interested in housing issues,” she said, noting the vote at the Financial Town Meeting to issue bonds to construct housing for town employees on the Thomas property across High Street from the Block Island School.
However, the Thomas property is not an affordable housing project as described now, she said.
Courtesy of The Block Island Times
January 14, 2019
Fields will continue in her role as Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director until her contract expires March 1.
“Barbara Fields has had a decades long commitment to Rhode Island and to the complex housing and homelessness challenges we face,” said Governor Raimondo. “I want to thank Barbara for her four years of service at RIHousing and her commitment to the people of our state. I wish her well in her future endeavors.”
Fields gave the following statement:
“Recently, I was selected by my colleagues from across the country to serve on the Executive Board of the National Council of State Housing Agencies, a national organization uniquely positioned to address the country’s housing crisis. Since accepting this appointment, I have been presented with a number of opportunities that would allow me to continue championing housing issues on a larger scale. Therefore, I will not continue in my role as Executive Director of RIHousing when my contract expires on March 1.
It has been a privilege to serve as the Executive Director of RIHousing for the past four years. During my time here, we have accomplished a great deal. We’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars into the Rhode Island economy, financed the development of desperately needed affordable apartments, and helped a record number of Rhode Islanders purchase their first home. I could not be more proud of the amazing team here at RIHousing.
I want to thank the Board and the RIHousing team, a wonderful group of committed public servants who work hard every day to help Rhode Islanders realize the dream of a safe, warm home for themselves and their families. I also want to thank Governor Raimondo for the opportunity to turn RIHousing around, place it on a path where it can achieve its full potential and is now poised to do the enormous amount of work in the area of housing that remains to be done here.”
During her tenure, RIHousing achieved its highest mortgage volume in 20 years. Under her leadership the corporation launched new, innovative financing tools to help more Rhode Islanders have a place to call home including the Ocean State Grad Grant, First Down and a Middle Market rental program. Fields also helped improve the agency’s bond rating while expanding loan servicing operations by 40 percent.
In October of 2018, Fields was selected by colleagues from across the country to serve on the Executive Board of the National Council of State Housing Agencies, a national organization uniquely positioned to address the country’s housing crisis. Following her departure, Fields intends to weigh opportunities at the national level.
The RIHousing Board of Commissioner Chairman Nicolas Retsinas and the Executive Office of Commerce will convene a search committee for Fields’ replacement.
RIHousing works to ensure that all people who live in Rhode Island can afford a healthy, attractive home that meets their needs. RIHousing provides loans, grants, education and assistance to help Rhode Islanders find, rent, buy, build and keep a good home. Created by the General Assembly in 1973, RIHousing is a self-sustaining corporation and receives no state funding for operations. For more information regarding RIHousing visit www.RIHousing.com or follow us @RIHousing on Facebook and Twitter.
By Chris Bergenheim-January 15, 2019 9:33 am
PROVIDENCE – R.I. Housing CEO and Executive Director Barbara Fields will step down from her role in March when her contract expires, R.I. Housing announced Tuesday.
The R.I. Housing Board of Commissioners Chairman Nicholas Retsinas and the Executive Office of Commerce will convene a search committee for Fields’ replacement.
In a statement, Fields said “[In October] I was selected by my colleagues from across the country to serve on the executive board of the National Council of State Housing Agencies, a national organization uniquely positioned to address the country’s housing crisis. Since accepting this appointment, I have been presented with a number of opportunities that would allow me to continue championing housing issues on a larger scale. Therefore, I will not continue in my role as executive director of RIHousing when my contract expires on March 1.”
R.I. Housing said that Fields will be considering new opportunities at the “national level.”
“Barbara Fields has had a decades-long commitment to Rhode Island and to the complex housing and homelessness challenges we face,” stated Gov. Gina M. Raimondo. “I want to thank Barbara for her four years of service at RIHousing and her commitment to the people of our state. I wish her well in her future endeavors.”
Fields was appointed executive director in March 2015, after serving as acting executive director starting in January 2015. Prior to her role at R.I. Housing, Fields served as New England Regional Administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“It has been a privilege to serve as the executive director of RIHousing for the past four years. During my time here, we have accomplished a great deal,” continued Fields. “We’ve invested hundreds of millions of dollars into the Rhode Island economy, financed the development of desperately needed affordable apartments, and helped a record number of Rhode Islanders purchase their first home. I could not be more proud of the amazing team here at RIHousing.”
Chris Bergenheim is the PBN web editor. Email him at Bergenheim@PBN.com.
Barbara Fields, the executive and CEO at Rhode Island Housing.
By Richard Asinof | Posted 12/10/18
PROVIDENCE – Wherever you go, housing seems to be a major topic of conversation these days, touching everyone. As supply dips and demand increases, as the occupancy rate nears capacity in downtown Providence, as the controversial plans proposed by developer Jason Fane to build a 600-foot tower for luxury apartments creates a passionate divide between community groups, labor unions and developers, as the demand for affordable housing keeps increasing, one of the people who has her finger on the pulse of what is happening is Barbara Fields, executive director and CEO at Rhode Island Housing.
In its 45 years, RI Housing has helped more than 70,000 families buy homes, and financed the construction of some 14,000 apartments for low- and moderate-income Rhode Islanders.
In 2017 alone, the numbers were impressive: RI Housing provided $257 million in financing to construct or rehabilitate 1,671 apartments and 8 home ownership units, and increase of 42 percent from the previous year. In doing so, the agency supported 1,099 jobs.
Still, despite the efforts of RI Housing, Fields began the discussion by framing the housing conundrum in Rhode Island as part of larger conversation about supply and demand nationally, quoting a recent study by Freddie Mac, which talked about the current mismatch between supply and demand.
Even with 1.62 million new units of housing being produced in the last year, the study said that residential construction for residential units has been weak by historical standards for almost a decade.
Further, the study said that the U.S. economy is currently about 2.5 millions short of what is needed to meet long-term demand.
When asked to translate what that means for Rhode Island, Fields responded: “We did a study almost three years ago, it is a little out of date. But even if you were to discount it by 50 percent, we will still need somewhere in the neighborhood of 20,000 homes and apartments over the next decade to meet growth [projections].”
In talking about growth, Fields made it clear that is wasn’t just about population growth. “I definitely think we are not losing population in Rhode Island; we’re probably somewhere between holding our own and gaining a little. It’s not going to be huge gain, which you might see in other parts of the country, but we may see 2 or 3 percent growth.”
What is really growing, Fields explained, “is household formation.”
Here is the ConvergenceRI interview with Barbara Fields, talking about the future of housing in Rhode Island and its relationship to changing demographics, changing definitions of households, and changing definitions of work.
ConvergenceRI: At Rhode Island Housing, you are really at the crux, at the inflexion point, for the future of Rhode Island. If you are looking at economic development, if you’re looking at community health, if you’re looking at education, it all comes back to housing.
FIELDS: It never gets framed that way on a national stage, literally since Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Since then, there hasn’t really been a major housing discussion in this country, except around the Fair Housing Act [five decades ago].
It turns out [that it] was Mitt Romney’s father, George, who tried to further it in the Nixon years, and when he pushed too hard, and they pushed back, and he kept pushing, they made him ambassador to Mexico.
One of the things that we are doing at Rhode Island Housing is bolstering our research and data collection. Because we would like to be seen more as a source for data, even though we serve certain segments of the population.
I believe that the housing market works as a whole, and we should be a source of accurate information that can interpret national trends, regional trends, and then local trends in Rhode Island.
For instance, the thing that is really growing is household formation.
ConvergenceRI: Can you define what you mean by household formation?
FIELDS: A generation ago, [as an example], my son would graduate college, and her daughter [Christine Hunsinger] would graduate college, and they would get married, and they would form one household. Or maybe two generations ago, it was more typical.
Today, he’s got an apartment and she’s got an apartment. They will be two households until they are older, getting married later in life. Eventually, they could be one household.
The other [trend] we haven’t really looked at is how divorce creates two households instead of one household.
A third factor is [the fact] that all of us around the table have a high chance of living into our 80s and 90s.
We have two growth trends to consider: first, the aging of our population; we will have tremendous growth in seniors. Rhode Island housing, for many years, did not put senior applications on a level playing field with family applications for new homes. Obviously, we have always done preservation.
And, there is the growth of the millennial generation, which appears to be a much bigger cohort than the Baby Boomers.
Another factor here is Rhode Island, is that I think we had an undervalued market. I don’t believe the current increases in prices are just a bubble.
One of our biggest challenges is the fact that we simply don’t have enough housing. Demand is high, supply is low, and, as I am fond of saying, there is no solution; there are only solutions.
I can talk to you about programs and things that we should be doing, but there is no magic bullet. We need a variety of pathways to get to the future.
ConvergenceRI: Anecdotally, I have heard, is that the millennials are coming back, but they are staying at their parents’ homes. Do you have data on that?
FIELDS: I saw a data point that said Connecticut had the third highest percentage of millennials living with their parents, based on some census data. We know that this is happening with more families than has happened in the past.
ConvergenceRI: To return to your comments about data, looking at the future, what are the data points that are needed when you talk about many solutions? I was struck by the fact when I interviewed Nelson Taylor recently about the demand for luxury apartments in Providence, he said he really didn’t have any good information about absorption rates by price level.
FIELDS: We have that. When it comes to data and solutions, first of all, we are living longer, so the data points are that people are living longer and staying in their homes longer.
And that means, we either need to help them age in place, or we need the type of housing where they can free up the single family home and move into a different type of living situation. That’s two different solutions for one kind of population.
ConvergenceRI: Are there experimental or pilot programs now in Rhode Island that bring together millennials with aging Baby Boomers in one community, as a way for them to live together?
FIELDS: None that I know of. I’ve seen similar ideas floated in Portland, Ore., and in Europe.
HUNSINGER: You did send me an article about a project in Boston, where they are trying to pair the older folks with graduate students.
FIELDS: Yes, students looking for a place to live when they are in college, where an older person offers them a place to live in their house, for a lower rent, in exchange for help around the house.
That is a solution to the overheated graduate student market.
Barry Bluestone who is an economist who thinks that there is not so much an explosion of students in Massachusetts that has affected the housing market, but that it is an explosion of graduate students, because they tend not to live on campus. Rhode Island has a little bit of that.
I am certainly a person who supports the building of student housing, even the private student housing, because three students can pay $2,700 for an apartment and think that’s great, because it’s $900 each, fairly doable. But for a family to afford $2,700 a month in rent is beyond the range for most families.
ConvergenceRI: What are the kinds of conversations that need to happen around housing? What are the trends beyond demographics that are important to know? What would it take to convene a conversation, say, between you and Joe Paolino, talking about housing in Rhode Island.
FIELDS: I would love to sit down and talk with Joey. He developed these micro-units that were leased up before you could get out the front door.
Last summer, I went to visit Tony Thomas, who is the manager at the Foundry. He’s fully leased. He said that 54 percent of the people living there come out of the Lifespan system.
When we think about a university or a hospital, which are major employers, you might think about the doctors or the professors, but we often forget about the countless other people who work in those systems – the lab technician, the nurse practitioner, the orderly, the maintenance worker, the groundskeeper, the teaching assistant. If you look at the range of incomes, we need to provide for a much greater range than we normally talk about.
We at Rhode Island Housing serve a certain segment of the market, with both an ownership possibility and a rental possibility.
We are trying to expand the reach of our programs, and interestingly enough, we have also beefed up our communications and outreach strategy.
ConvergenceRI: What is the messaging for your communications strategy?
FIELDS: As I was trying to say before, no matter where I go now, everyone is being touched by housing, which is very different than when I sat down to talk with you four years ago when I came here.
People need housing that meets their family’s financial situation. It allows you to understand that people have different situations and different requirements.
ConvergenceRI: And what do you think is the best messaging to communicate that?
FIELDS: We need jobs in Rhode Island, and the governor has been laser-focused on that, and we are starting to experience what that means, which is great for the local economy.
The phrase, which you can attribute to my board chair, Nick Retsinas, is: Housing is where jobs go to sleep at night.
A thriving economy creates jobs for people with a variety of skill sets in a variety of entry points. We need housing for them, that’s the basis of community.
Years ago, Brenda Clement and I came up with the phrase: the road to economic opportunity starts at your front door. [Or you did.]
I think to think of housing as being part of the basic infrastructure of the community: you need homes, you need roads, hospitals, bridges and schools. Home is where children can do their homework, families can come together and celebrate holidays, get a good night’s sleep and be productive members of society.
Courtesy of Convergence RI
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