Created in 2001, the Neighborhood Opportunities Program (NOP) has led to the development of 1,188 affordable homes throughout the state. The program provides funding for new construction, rehabilitation, and ongoing operation of housing affordable for households earning 40% or less of the area median income. In FY06 and FY07, the NOP was funded at $7.5 million. From FY08 to FY10, funding was reduced to $2.5 million each year, and in FY11 the program was cut to $1.5 million.
In response to the recent election of Governor Lincoln Chafee (I), several Rhode Island housing groups have joined together to make funding of NOP their top legislative priority. Advocates are using social media tools to supplement traditional organizing tactics such as canvassing and letter writing. The Governor’s budget proposal is expected to be released in early February and advocates are urging NOP funding be restored to $7.5 million.
The coalition has a number of arguments at its disposal in favor of fully funding NOP. Advocates stress that developers use NOP funds to leverage private investment and other funding sources such as low income housing tax credits. They estimate that for every $1 spent by the state in NOP funding, almost $10 in economic activity is leveraged and point out that the construction and real estate industries account for one in every ten jobs in Rhode Island. In addition, advocates cite high housing costs faced by Rhode Island households as justification for increasing investment in the NOP.
Further underscoring the importance of full funding for NOP is the fact that Rhode Island’s only other program for affordable housing construction, Building Homes Rhode Island (BHRI), is in its last year of funding. BHRI was created from a $50 million bond in 2006 and with bond money running out, an increase in NOP levels is even more crucial to provide more affordable housing and sustain jobs in the construction industry. Recognizing the tenuous nature of state appropriations, advocates are beginning to look for dedicated funding sources for affordable housing. Initially, advocates are looking at real estate transfer fees or a deed recordation tax as possible funding sources.
“It is critical for the state not only to maintain NOP, but to increase funding to $7.5 million annually,” said Brenda Clement, Executive Director of the Housing Action Coalition of Rhode Island and an NLIHC board member. “NOP stimulates the economy and creates jobs. If funding is not restored, Rhode Island’s most vulnerable residents are doubly hit by a loss of economic opportunity, as well as a lack of access to homes they can afford.”
For more information, contact Brenda Clement at firstname.lastname@example.org.