PROVIDENCE — Housing advocates on Thursday called on state legislators to factor affordable housing into their plans to rebuild the state’s economy, which has been battered by the fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic.
“I encourage our legislators, our advocates
and our community leaders to be courageous, to be bold and to find the
solution so that Rhode Island is truly a safe and affordable place to
call home,” Cortney Nicolato, president and CEO of the United Way of
Rhode Island, said while hosting a Zoom call with other advocates and
lawmakers on Thursday.
Developing more affordable housing, they said, could be a jumping-off point for Rhode Island’s economic recovery because it would create jobs and help keep more Rhode Islanders from falling into poverty and homelessness.
“During the pandemic, safe and affordable housing is vital to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but housing also offers a pathway to our economic recovery,” said Nicolato, who noted that the call volume to the United Way’s 211 social-services hotline has increased by three to four times since March.
The federal government has provided some funding to Rhode Island through the CARES Act, passed by Congress in March to provide coronavirus-related relief to states.
Municipalities around the state have received millions in Community Development Block Grants, which can be used for rental assistance as well as other types of housing projects, according to U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-RI, who was not on Thursday’s call but has been an advocate for affordable housing in Congress. Three Rhode Island cities — Pawtucket, Providence and Woonsocket — received Emergency Solutions Grants, which can be used to help individuals experiencing homelessness, according to Reed.
The CARES Act also includes an eviction moratorium for those with federally backed mortgages until the end of July.
But the federal aid “just scratches the surface” of what Rhode Islanders will need going forward, Nicolato said.
The advocates urged Gov. Gina Raimondo to protect the dedicated revenue stream for the construction of more affordable housing that she pledged to include in her budget earlier this year.
“We’ve had a housing crisis for years,” said Karen Santilli, president and CEO of Crossroads, the social-services agency operating the state’s largest homeless shelter. “This pandemic has made it worse and more urgent.”
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