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Community members, housing advocates react to McKee’s budget amendment

Press conference included discussion of funding needs, affordable housing

A press release by RICEH noted that approximately 529 people were experiencing “unsheltered homelessness at the beginning of April 2024, a 645% increase since January 2019.”
A press release by RICEH noted that approximately 529 people were experiencing “unsheltered homelessness at the beginning of April 2024, a 645% increase since January 2019.”

At a Tuesday press conference, advocates and community members discussed homelessness in Rhode Island and Gov. Dan McKee’s budget amendment, which provides an estimated $31 million for housing navigation, housing production, stabilization services, housing subsidies and homelessness prevention.

Before McKee announced the budget amendment on Monday, only an estimated $7.1 million was allocated to paying for shelter beds and related services. According to Public Radio, while federal funding related to the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed the state to significantly increase funding for shelter beds in the past few years, these funds are now running out.

Kimberly Simmons, the executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness, said at the press conference that “without this much-needed funding, hundreds more Rhode Islanders will become unsheltered and exacerbate an already burdened homelessness system.”

A press release by RICEH noted that approximately 529 people were experiencing “unsheltered homelessness at the beginning of April 2024, a 645% increase since January 2019.” 

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Juan Espinoza, communications and development manager for RICEH, said that while funding provided by the budget amendment can stabilize the number of current shelter beds in the state, it still won’t allow for new shelter beds. 

Speaking about the current state of housing, Espinoza expressed excitement about “some extensions to some shelters that were projected to be closed at the end of the month that … have had contract extensions.” Still, he noted that the closure of winter shelter beds means 47 seasonal beds will become unavailable at the end of April.

Elaine Hayes, the president and CEO of Amos House, said that at the start of the calendar year, planning begins on “how we handle winter emergency homelessness.” But, when spring comes, they have to “discharge people back to the street and start all over again.” 

“That’s not solving homelessness,” she added. “Having more year-round beds or shelter units available would be beneficial,” Espinoza said.

Several speakers at the conference spoke about personal experiences with homelessness and emphasized the need to fund solutions. 

Jessica, a shelter advocate who currently experiences homelessness, spoke about the barriers that prevent people from accessing housing in Rhode Island.

“It’s more expensive to be homeless than it is to be housed,” she said, referencing the cost of traveling to look at apartments, as well as the cost of buying food items without a fridge for her wife, who is diabetic. 

Jessica added that they are part of a program that provides their rent for a year. But, they are still searching for an apartment.

Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Narragansett, South Kingstown) said that the urgency of the housing crisis is known to “any of us who know someone who is looking for a place to live right now.” “No matter what income bracket you’re in, the pressure is on people and it’s continuing to grow,” she added.

Senator Jonathon Acosta (D-Central Falls, Pawtucket) noted that housing construction, transitional housing and other support also need funding.

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“It’s not just about shelter beds, it’s also about housing construction, it’s also about transitional housing,” Acosta said, emphasizing the need to frame Rhode Island’s housing needs as an “ecosystem so that Rhode Island doesn’t continue to be perpetually dead last in housing production.” 

Espinoza noted that much of the housing currently being created targets those with a median to higher income.

“One way to reduce the strain that we’re currently having on our shelter beds is creating more affordable housing,” he said. “If you can, long-term, create more affordable housing for low-income Rhode Islanders, you can start to move people who are currently living in shelter … but do have income … into apartments.” 

McKee’s budget amendment will “expand eligible uses for the existing Housing Production Fund to include housing stabilization, housing problem solving, housing subsidies and homelessness prevention.” 

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Espinoza expressed hope that McKee’s previously proposed $100 million housing bond can help create “additional housing units” in the state. But, he noted that “that’s a long-term investment” and “a long-term strategy.” 

McKee’s budget proposes a reduction of the taxation rate on partial home short-term rentals to 5% rather than 13%, which will create a permanent funding stream that will “provide an estimated $2.5 million in FY 2025 and $5.0 million in FY 2026 to fund housing stability and homelessness efforts,” according to the budget proposal. 

“We’ll probably be back asking for this amount or maybe even more next year to help support the numbers that we’re seeing out there, so it’s important to find that sustainable source of funding,” Espinoza said.


Mikayla Kennedy

Mikayla Kennedy is a Metro editor covering Housing and Transportation. She is a sophomore from New York City studying Political Science and Public Policy Economics.



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