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Guest MINDSETTER™  Sen. Pichardo: Ballot Question Will Have Strong Impact on RI Homelessness

Monday, April 25, 2016

 

Never before has housing been such an important issue to Rhode Islanders.

As baby boomers are having trouble competing for jobs in a tech-savvy world, and young people are trying to find their way with a simple starter home, many are still bearing the burden of the housing crisis. Meanwhile homelessness continues to plague many of our citizens.

A lot of different community groups and government entities have attempted to tackle the homelessness problem in various ways. It is my belief that ending chronic homelessness begins with a plan, based on a permanent foundation.
There is no quick fix here. However, more affordable housing lays the foundation needed for people who have lost their way to get back on track. It is time we stop putting a Band-Aid on the homelessness problem. We are perpetuating the issue by denying the one thing our most vulnerable population needs to get back on their feet: shelter, a permanent place to call home.

This is why I’m proposing a $100 million bond (2016-S 2446) on the ballot this year to construct more permanent affordable housing — and to rehabilitate buildings that already exist. It is not only a necessary step in eliminating homelessness in Rhode Island — it’s the proper way to nurture growth in our workforce. Employment starts with a happy and healthy home.

People without homes already face many challenges. Some come from broken homes, others have been unlucky in their jobs and still others have gone through deaths, divorce, war and a number of unfortunate trials in their lives. More permanent affordable housing would provide a stable place for many of these people to foster positive change in their lives. Aside from being a sign of basic human decency, lending a helping hand to the homeless will have positive effects on our economy and general livability. What’s good for them will be good for us, and there’s plenty of proof of that, too.

But the problem doesn’t begin and end with the construction of affordable housing. It is imperative that we do what we can to see that affordable housing is maintained. Every homeowner knows that maintaining housing is an ongoing process. Basements need repair. Roofs need to be fixed. And keeping a home livable can be a great struggle, particularly to those with low income. Doing what we can to help with the maintenance of these homes not only makes for a contributing citizenry — it also provides jobs to those who live in these homes: the roofers, the handymen, the artisans who keep homes well-maintained.

We must also give institutions designed to help our families, like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the ability to recapitalize and help underserved communities.

Fannie and Freddie’s mission is to help families secure the dream of homeownership, yet they remain in conservatorship under the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which means they aren’t allowed to retain profits, build capital and expand mortgage access.
With a quick glance at the statistics, it is clear Rhode Island faces considerable challenges. In 2012, the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless pointed out that we had 4,868 men and women – 1,277 of whom were children – who lost their homes due to lack of income or high cost of housing. Perhaps more alarming is the fact that in 2010, the Rhode Island Housing Resources Commission released a report showing our state had the highest poverty and rent burden rates in New England. Almost 42 percent of all Rhode Island households were paying more than 30 percent of their total income for housing in 2010. Almost half of all renters in the state fall into that category.

Imagine working 94 hours per week, 52 weeks per year to afford the average two-bedroom apartment in Rhode Island. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), that’s what a resident working a minimum wage job has to do to get by.
These are the reasons I have proposed this bond referendum. Housing is the most basic of needs, and I have learned a lot about it as the chairman of the Senate Housing and Municipal Government Committee. When we have our populace enjoying decent living conditions, they tend to be more productive, more energetic, more law-abiding, and take greater pride in themselves. The beneficiaries are our society and our economy.

Juan M. Pichardo, is a Democratic state senator representing District 2 in Providence.

 

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