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By Alexa Gagosz
The Boston Globe, March 17, 2022

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island needs more than 20,000 homes that low-income renters could afford, despite an unprecedented amount of cash available to help the state develop new units. The state has more than $1.1 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds from Congress and a huge state surplus, yet housing advocates say that not enough of that money is being dedicated toward housing.

Governor Dan McKee proposed a $250 million investment in housing and homelessness assistance using the recovery funds in his FY2023 budget this year. It’s the biggest chunk allocated from the ARPA funds, but only $90 million of that money will go toward “creating and preserving” about 1,500 units for households earning up to 80 percent of the area median income (which is about $69,200 for a four-person household).

When the administration’s investment announcement came, it was after months of increased pressure to tap into federal dollars to address Rhode Island’s housing crisis. In September 2021, housing advocates and providers called on the state to allocate at least $500 million, which is about half of the state’s ARPA funds, to put toward the crisis.

But the actual investment was still only about half of what advocates asked the McKee administration to allocate toward the problem.

“We have a lot of need,” Melina Lodge, the executive director of the Housing Network of Rhode Island, said on a call Wednesday night. “And the challenge when getting a once-in-a-lifetime investment is wondering: When will Rhode Island ever get this type of money from the federal government ever again? I don’t envy the government that has to make the decisions.

“But we can’t make investments in one-off programs. We need to invest in programs that will have long-term returns. That’s housing,” she said.