King Street Commons in Olneyville neighborhood of Providence.

King Street Commons in the Olneyville neighborhood of Providence.

Governor Daniel McKee holds first public event with incoming Housing Secretary Stefan Pryor

By Steve Ahlquist

Uprise RI could not be at the press event held by Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee and incoming Secretary of Housing Stefan Pryor on Tuesday, but thanks to Coalition Radio and their YouTube video, we were able to review the comments made regarding housing. The event was held to introduce Pryor as Rhode Island’s new Housing Secretary and to celebrate the opening of a new affordable housing development, courtesy of One Neighborhood Builders, located at the King Street Commons in Olneyville. The video starts with an introduction by One Neighborhood Builders executive director Jennifer Hawkins.[As this piece was being prepared Channel 10 News announced that outgoing Housing Secretary Josh Saal has signed on to be a consultant for the Department of Housing. Saal was fired by Governor McKee last week for failing to deliver on the job.]

The transcript has been edited for clarity and non-housing discussion has been removed, but you can watch the entire video here:


Governor McKee: As I said at my State of the State [Address], I don’t believe there’s a community in the state of Rhode Island that does not want to do its part in terms of expanding the housing opportunities in our state.

Secretary Pryor: This is a moment of opportunity. There are enormous challenges in front of us, but it’s so clear that Rhode Island is united with the conviction that we do more to produce housing at every income level. And that in doing so, we protect the vulnerable, including individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness. And that’s what we’re going to do. We’re gonna do more on all of those fronts.

It’s a tremendous privilege to enter this position at this moment in time because obviously we didn’t wish for the challenges that our state faces on the housing front, but it has produced that mandate, and we must seize the moment. I’m pleased that there is the beginnings of a housing department and there are some outstanding professionals who are doing work every single day for the state. There are municipal leaders and workers who are hard at the job as well. There are developers, there are advocates, and there are providers who are getting the job done best they can, with what in the past has been an under-resourced scenario. Now we’re seeing resources applied. Thank you. Governor McKee and General Assembly, including the Speaker and the Senate President.

We have a quarter billion dollars applied to the task. That’s a lot of money. It’s also not sufficient. We have more work to do. We have proposed and enacted into law the first in memory recurring funding stream for housing, but it will only accumulate a handful of millions dollars a year. We’ve passed new bond issuances. All of these things are outstanding accomplishments, and in some cases represent record levels of investment, but there’s still not enough. We have work to do. That work breaks down into three big categories:

  • Category one is housing production. We need to get out of the scenario where Rhode Island is bottom of the list or close to it, for the rate of housing production compared to other states. We can do better. We need to focus on affordability, including for the most vulnerable residents of our state who struggle the most.
  • Second category is homelessness. We need to increase the intensity of our focus on helping individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness. There has been a significant increase in shelter availability and warming centers, and we’ve begun the process of building permanent supportive housing for the homeless community, among other vulnerable communities. We must do more, as the governor himself has said. It’s predictable that winter will come next year. So the governor and I are committed to ensuring that we are ever better prepared. And the planning begins now for next winter.
  • Third, the housing organization that will help to drive this work. We need to continue the reorg process that Governor McKee has already started. We are very blessed that the governor has included more than 20 new positions in his budget for the housing department. We need to build the department in earnest. We need to unify the varying divisions of the state that work on housing. We need to create a coherent system that helps with the aforementioned activities.