Homelessness and affordable housing advocates secured three major victories during the 2014 session of the Rhode Island General Assembly: a dedicated source of funding for housing and homelessness prevention, state-level protections for tenants living in foreclosed properties, and the Governor’s veto of the Assembly’s attempt to increase property taxes on assisted, affordable rental housing. Three NLIHC State Coalition Partners played major roles in achieving these victories, the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless (RICH), the Housing Network of Rhode Island, and the Housing Action Coalition of Rhode Island.
The FY15 enacted budget creates a dedicated source of funding for homelessness prevention, affordable housing, and the state’s lead hazard abatement program. The new dedicated source will be revenue raised from a 15% increase to the real estate conveyance tax. Advocates expect that the estimated $2.8 million per year generated will increase investment in the state’s Housing Rental Subsidy Program, the state’s own voucher program. That program was allocated $750,000 in FY14 (see Memo, 8/9/13), and 111 individuals and families experiencing homelessness have moved into housing they can afford using the program.
The General Assembly also passed a "just cause" bill that requires mortgage lenders to allow tenants to continue living in one-to-four unit foreclosed properties under the terms of their lease. It also requires lenders to maintain healthy and safe living conditions in foreclosed properties. Prior to enactment, Rhode Island had no state-level protections for tenants in foreclosure. This victory comes after six years of advocacy led by Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE), a group that organizes low income families in communities of color for social, economic, and political justice. RICH and the Housing Action Coalition of Rhode Island are members of DARE’s Just Cause Coalition.
The Housing Network of Rhode Island and Rhode Island Housing, the state housing finance agency, also led a successful effort to persuade Governor Lincoln Chafee (D) to veto an attempt to increase property taxes from 8% to 10% of gross potential rents on multifamily residential rental property subject to a recorded housing subsidy covenant that restricts tenant eligibility, rents, and resale. This is the second year in a row the General Assembly voted to allow cities and towns to impose the property tax increase on such affordable housing developments. Advocates also won a veto of the measure in FY14.
Jim Ryczek, Executive Director of RICH, said, “We can be proud of the significant steps the Rhode Island General Assembly has taken this session to move forward on our state’s plan to end homelessness. The changes in law and public policy they have enacted move us a step closer to our vision of a state of Rhode Island that refuses to let any man, woman, or child be homeless.”
For more information contact LeeAnn Byrne, Policy Coordinator, Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 401-721-5685 ext. 16.