Advocates: McKee's affordable housing request not enough to fix problem

Rhode Island Gov. Daniel McKee is asking for a budget amendment that would allocate $29.5 million from American Rescue Plan Act money for affordable housing and housing stability, but it’s not enough to fix the state’s problems, according to some who testified before the House Finance Committee.

The state has not spent any of the $1.13 billion it has received from ARPA, but McKee is asking lawmakers to allocate 10% of it before considering how to spend the rest when the Legislature reconvenes next year.

McKee’s proposal includes $15 million for affordable housing development, $12 million for site acquisition and $1.5 million for housing stability. The plan sets aside $500,000 to hire contractors for six months to support the Office of Housing and Community Development and an additional $500,000 would go toward broadband mapping and strategy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the housing crisis in Rhode Island and has created an urgent matter, according to testimony from Jordan Goyette of Reclaim RI.

“The American Rescue Act funds were given to us as a stimulus to help alleviate the pain of the pandemic,” Goyette told the committee. “We are the only New England state that hasn’t gotten this money out to the people who are in so much pain right now.”

Reclaim RI is asking for an additional $260 million investment that includes $195 million to create a new state-owned corporation that would oversee public and community-owned housing.

Homes RI, a multisector coalition of organizations, is asking for $525 million of ARPA funds with $25 million for current housing needs.

“According to the RI Coalition to End Homelessness, over the past month, nearly 600 people were sleeping outdoors or in places not fit for human habitation,” according to Home RI”s written testimony. “Our rental vacancy is the lowest it has been in a long time, around two percent. For the past several years, data from HousingWorks RI have shown over one-third of Rhode Island households – approximately 140,000 – are cost-burdened.”

The remaining proposal from Homes RI calls for the bulk of the money – $350 million – to “produce, preserve and protect 2,500 affordable homes by 2030.”

The General Assembly is in recess, but the Senate and House Finance Committees are holding meetings on the governor’s plan to spend 10% of ARPA funding. The House Committee will focus on McKee’s $38.5 million request for social programs at its next hearing, according to Chair Marvin Abney.

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