Rhode Island has dedicated $221 million of the $1.1 billion in “American Rescue Plan Act” (ARPA) State Fiscal Recovery funds it received toward affordable housing and homelessness prevention in its fiscal year (FY) 2023 budget. The investment builds on an initial allocation of $29 million for housing that was approved by state lawmakers in January 2022, bringing Rhode Island’s total investment to $250 million, or nearly one-quarter of the state’s ARPA allocation. Governor Daniel McKee signed the FY23 budget into law in June, along with 10 other bills meant to address the state’s housing crisis.
The state’s FY23 budget makes a number of important investments in housing, including $85 million for the construction of affordable homes, $25 million for the acquisition and redevelopment of distressed properties, $35 million to develop housing solutions for people experiencing homelessness, and $30 million for down payment assistance programs for first-time homebuyers allocated over multiple fiscal years through FY25. The budget carves out $10 million in funding for a pilot project to support public housing through development financing and project-based rental assistance. The budget also includes $28 million to recapitalize the state’s Historic Tax Credit Fund.
Over the past year, Homes RI, a multi-sector coalition of organizations focused on increasing the supply of safe, healthy, and affordable homes across Rhode Island, advocated for state leaders to make substantial investments of ARPA State Fiscal Recovery funds in improving housing stability for Rhode Islanders. Homes RI is facilitated by the Housing Network of Rhode Island, an NLIHC state partner. The coalition led a variety of initiatives, including formulating a set of housing investment priorities for ARPA, creating a Say Yes to Invest social media toolkit, supporting press coverage of efforts to increase housing funding, constructing a timeline of the ARPA allocation process, and holding legislative advocacy days with members at the statehouse. While Homes RI advocated for $500 million of ARPA funds to be allocated to affordable housing, the organization is celebrating the $250 million allocation, noting that it sends a clear signal of the Governor’s and Legislature’s commitment to address Rhode Island’s housing challenges.
“The legislative successes, particularly with the budget, would not have happened without persistent advocacy over many years by housing champions across our state,” said Barbara Clement, executive director of Housing Works RI at Roger Williams University, an NLIHC member and a part of the Homes RI coalition. “As NLIHC’s data and our annual housing factbook show, the need for more housing particularly for low-wage workers and individuals is dire. We will work with our colleagues to make sure these funds and programs target those most in need.”
Melina Lodge, executive director of the Housing Network of Rhode Island, called the investment “historic,” noting that prior to 2021, Rhode Island relied primarily on bond referenda to fund affordable home development. “This investment helps us to build scaffolding for future investments,” she said. “The budget acknowledges the urgency of the problem, prioritizes housing for lower-income households, and provides the opportunity for CDCs and nonprofit developers to demonstrate what this investment can do for the state.”
Lodge serves on the House Special Legislative Commission to Study the Rhode Island Low and Moderate Income Housing Act. Throughout the 2022 legislative session, Lodge worked with the Rhode Island House Speaker’s office, Commission Chairs, and bill sponsors to draft a package of complementary legislation that was signed into law in early July. According to Lodge, the process was a “true partnership” between House leadership and advocates. The package of 10 bills elevates the Deputy Secretary of Housing to a cabinet-level Secretary position, reduces barriers and streamlines processes to increase development activity, expands access to a greater diversity of housing options including accessory dwelling units, repurposed schools, and historic buildings, and prescribes the collection of useful data to drive thoughtful and responsive policy making in the future.
For more information about the Housing Network of Rhode Island, Homes RI, and the advocacy that led to this success, please contact Melina Lodge at [email protected].