Homes RI – a multisector coalition of more than 60 organizations – advocates to increase the supply of safe, healthy, affordable homes for low-income Rhode Islanders in communities of their choice. Housing Network of Rhode Island (HNRI), the state’s association of nonprofit community development corporations, convenes Homes RI. HNRI educates the public and pushes for policies that address Rhode Island’s housing and community-based economic needs.
In early 2020, Homes RI coalesced around an ambitious legislative agenda. The agenda included three pillars: permanent, dedicated funding for affordable housing production and preservation, source-of-income protections, and a technical language correction to avoid double taxation of affordable housing developers in properties’ Year 15 investor exit. Despite the challenges of reaching consensus in a diverse, multisector coalition, Homes RI successfully organized around this shared agenda. In the end, Homes RI’s creative and steadfast advocacy paid off: each of its three core priorities was approved during the 2021 legislative session.
“We are very grateful to our partners and supporters for their persistent advocacy in advancing investments in affordable homes in Rhode Island for FY [fiscal year] 2022,” said Melina Lodge, Executive Director of HNRI. “While this past legislative session we were successful in achieving several important housing wins, including the State’s first-ever permanent funding stream for housing production, there is more work to be done and we look forward to continuing our collective efforts to improve access to safe, decent, affordable homes for all Rhode Islanders.”
Rhode Island has a shortage of 21,678 rental homes affordable and available to extremely low-income renters. To address this gap, Homes RI pushed to increase funding for affordable housing development and preservation. Its advocacy was successful on two fronts. First, in December 2020, the legislature voted to hold a special election with seven bond questions on the ballot, including a $65 million affordable housing and community revitalization bond. To build momentum for the bond measure, Homes RI held a rally entitled “Rent is Due: Say Yes to Invest,” which featured former Governor Gina Raimondo (D) and other prominent elected officials, as well as advocates with lived experience of housing instability. The rally was supported via social media by advocates using the hashtag #SayYesToInvest. The ballot measure ultimately passed with two-thirds of voters in support.
Rhode Island made further historic investments in affordable housing in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget. The budget included the state’s first-ever dedicated funding stream for housing production. By investing a portion of the real estate transfer tax on high-value residential properties, the state will generate an estimated $4 million annually for the creation of affordable housing. The budget also established the position of a Deputy Secretary of Commerce and Housing to direct housing initiatives and develop a housing plan. Prior to the passage of the budget, Rhode Island was the only state in New England without dedicated, sustained funding for affordable housing. In addition, the budget included a language correction to the real estate conveyance tax to end double taxation on affordable housing developments.
Homes RI achieved another significant victory with the passage of the Fair Housing Practices Act (S-0561, H-5257) on April 15, 2021. The Fair Housing Practices Act bans source-of-income discrimination and prohibits landlords from refusing to rent to voucher holders. In passing the bill, Rhode Island joined 18 other states and the District of Columbia, in addition to approximately 100 cities and counties, that have source-of-income discrimination laws on the books (although the strength of protections for voucher holders varies significantly among states).
HNRI and other Homes RI coalition members also supported the reinstatement of the Special Legislative Commission to Study Rhode Island’s Low-and-Moderate Income Housing Act, a body of experts charged with making recommendations to improve a Rhode Island law that requires cities and towns to ensure that at least 10% of their year-round housing stock is affordable to low-income households. Only six of Rhode Island’s municipalities currently meet this goal. In the future, Homes RI will continue to advocate for legislative and administrative changes that enable all Rhode Islanders to access safe, healthy, and affordable homes.