Jim Reed: Help for RI’s Housing Crisis

Saturday, March 16, 2013


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Guest Mindsetter Jim Reed says the Public Housing Association of Rhode Island should be commended for its efforts in helping Rhode Islanders find housing.

How can we talk about housing in Rhode Island without hearing from PHARI?

There is an organization that serves and represents the largest group of tenants, landlords and residents in RI. It provides resident services, home ownership programs, credit counseling, and family self sufficiency programs. It makes purchases of services and goods in its local communities. It returns homes to the tax rolls in municipalities. It pays nearly a million dollars in PILOT returns from Westerly to Woonsocket. It inspires people and families to become active, passionate and taxpaying members of society. It shelters, comforts and serves veterans from WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Korea, Dessert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. It helps RI's senior citizens successfully age in place. What is this organization? Public Housing Association of Rhode Island (PHARI). And, we are the largest and most experienced group of RI housing officials in the industry.

After reading the article in GOLOCALPROV regarding the so-called “nearly deplorable” condition of housing in the Ocean State, it is necessary for PHARI to weigh in. The tasks accomplished by our local housing authorities each day is remarkable and a vital part of housing scenario in our state. While we laud the efforts of members of the Rhode Island General Assembly for taking the steps toward addressing the great discrepancies and deficiencies in the mission to provide safe, affordable, decent housing to RI’s low income, and working poor families, perhaps the time has come for PHARI and its member agencies to be a part of this step toward helping our most vulnerable citizens and our growing numbers of people and working poor directly impacted by the shredding of the safety net. Only a comprehensive effort will provide a path to bolstering all citizens going forward. A comprehensive approach can only be achieved with the input of the largest and most experienced people in the housing industry, PHARI.

Help is Available

PHARI serves 40,000 people and families in its public housing sector, as well as in its housing choice voucher program. There has existed over time, great misunderstandings and a lack of general knowledge regarding public housing authorities and their role in sheltering so many people. The 25-member housing authorities provide housing services and so much more. The association is recognized as having the most innovative and tailored programs that help meet the needs of approximately 40,000 Rhode Islanders throughout the state. It has collectively sought ways to reduce program costs through collaborations between members and area service providers. It now faces “The Perfect Storm”; more budget cuts, lower prorations of federal assistance; insufficient program fees and sequestration, at a time of greatest need as outlined in the article. Public Housing Authorities are now being asked to continue services with less financial support. PHARI will to stand up to these challenges and find solutions as part of what should be a more symphonic approach to housing families in need.

What we know is; in 2012 a person in RI had to earn $17.78 dollars per hour or 2.4 full time jobs to afford fair market rent. That figure is up to 18.18 dollar per hour for 2013. As these numbers have remained on the rise, more and more folks seek refuge on our doorsteps in public housing. But we have suffered draconian cuts for the past several years and are currently reeling beneath the sequester. Rising rents, unfair calculations of fair market rent (FMR), stagnant employment markers, and huge federal regulations also find their way to our door step. 

And we in Public Housing have cut, slashed and yet still continue to deliver safe affordable and decent housing for our deserving residents, but it is becoming more and more difficult to continue the mission, at a time of greatest need.

The Truth About Public Housing

What do you tell a fellow Rhode Islander when they say: I just paid more than $4.00 a gallon for heating oil and I need medicine that costs $100 per month more than Medicare and we don’t know how we will put food on the table?

How about the young working family who are losing child care through the Head Start Program? How about the homeless? How about the landlords who depend on housing assistance from eligible participants? These are questions Rhode Island Housing Authorities face every day.

That is why we need to develop a comprehensive approach and understanding about what we do and how it is delivered. Despite some public notions, public housing is NOT a giveaway. It is no NOT a rent free program. It is a program which serves a wide swath of people including:

• 34% Adults with Children

• 30% Elderly

• 17% Disabled

• 14% Childless Adults

• 5% Disabled Adults with Children

• 1% Elderly with Children

Who Is Eligible?

A household must be “low-income” meaning that its income may not exceed 80 percent of the local median income — in order to begin receiving federal rental assistance. Some programs limit initial eligibility to households at or below 50 percent of the local median.

How is rent calculated? Most households pay 30 percent of their income (after certain deductions are taken out) for rent and utilities. Private landlords are helped by the Housing Choice Voucher program through rent subsidies combined with rental payment from the qualified tenants. Do these programs help? According the Center for Budget and Policies, yes:

“Federal rental assistance helps families to afford decent quality, uncrowded housing and avoid homelessness or other kinds of housing instability. By limiting housing costs, it also leaves families with more resources for work-related expenses like child care and transportation, as well as basic needs like food and medicine.

For frail seniors and people with disabilities, federal rental assistance programs often provide services as well as affordable units, enabling them to remain in their home communities and avoid or delay moving into nursing homes or other institutions that are much more costly (for state and federal governments as well as families).

Also, when assistance enables families to live in low-poverty neighborhoods, it can provide access to strong schools and more job opportunities and has been shown to lead to better health outcomes.”
PHARI looks forward to a robust conversation about housing concerns going forward and we are planning a legislative symposium for local, state and federal elected in the early summer. We are Rhode Islanders helping Rhode Islanders.

Jim Reed is the President of PHARI. To learn more about the organization, visit their website at www. housinginhope.org, like them on FB and follow them on Twitter @housinginhope.


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