Jennifer Hawkins, Executive Director of ONE Neighborhood Builders, testifies before the House Finance Committee
about Governor Dan McKee’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year. McKee has proposed spending $250 million
from the American Rescue Plan Act federal stimulus funds to address the state’s housing crisis.
By Kate Bramson
ONE Neighborhood Builders
Developing and preserving more affordable housing throughout Rhode Island took center stage Thursday at the State House with the announcement that 11 bills have been introduced to help address the state’s housing crisis.
ONE Neighborhood Builders Executive Director Jennifer Hawkins joined legislative leaders and other housing advocates at a press conference about the package of bills. She is a member of the special legislative committee that has been studying Rhode Island’s Low and Moderate Income Housing Act.
The commission is working to ensure that Rhode Island communities meet the state law’s requirement that 10% of the homes in cities and towns are affordable to individuals and families, so that they do not have to spend more than 30% of their income on housing.
Also this week, Hawkins joined other housing advocates on Wednesday at the State House to testify before the House Finance Committee about Governor Dan McKee’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year. McKee has proposed spending $250 million from the American Rescue Plan Act federal stimulus funds to address the state’s housing crisis.
“$250 million is, indeed, unprecedented, but it is wholly inadequate,” Hawkins told the Committee.
ONE Neighborhood Builders (ONE|NB) and other members of the Homes RI coalition of housing advocates are urging state leaders to invest $500 million to increase the production and preservation of affordable housing in Rhode Island. The nonprofit ONE Neighborhood Builders develops affordable housing and engages neighbors across Greater Providence to cultivate healthy, vibrant, and safe communities.
In its development pipeline at this time, ONE|NB has 342 units of affordable housing that it’s working to finance and develop, Hawkins told the committee. The nonprofit has also participated in a survey of housing developers conducted by the Housing Network of Rhode Island.
“When we surveyed the members of the Housing Network … about their development pipeline, we received answers that said 1,900 units are in the 3-year development pipeline just for affordable homes,” Hawkins said. “That totals $483 million of investment, and that’s just a survey of eight little nonprofit developers, right? Nineteen hundred units. $483 million. The math there, I think, really spotlights how $250 million—while we’re grateful—is truly inadequate to dig ourselves out of this decades-long problem that we’ve found ourselves in.”
Testifying before the Committee, Hawkins addressed the differences between Governor McKee’s budget proposals and what the Homes RI coalition has proposed. One difference was in recommendations to offer down payment assistance to people who cannot afford to buy their own homes without some assistance. The Governor had proposed assistance per homebuyer of $17,500.
“We proposed $5 million for down payment assistance, and the Governor proposed $50 million,” Hawkins said. “I would suggest that—when considering down payment assistance—we can’t put down payment assistance in if there aren’t actually homes to buy. And so the only way to increase the homes to buy is to increase production. And looking closely at the down payment assistance number, $17,500 per home is a start, but it’s really not going to close the racial disparity gap that we see in first-time and first-generation homeowners. That number really needs to be at least double to really make an impact.”
“One last comment regarding the allocation of funds over a period of time,” Hawkins said. “We all agree that this is a crisis that we are facing today and the ability to put the money out on the street in one allotment can really start catalyzing the production. I question why we would slowly allocate the money over a number of fiscal years. ONE|NB is committed to ending homelessness. We develop permanent, supportive housing. We develop units to help people age in place, and we are looking forward to being part of the solution.”