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Much of the campaign season in Rhode Island has been focused on the state’s lagging economy and need for more jobs, and rightfully so. In a state with the third highest unemployment rate in the country, jobs certainly need to be a priority for the next governor of Rhode Island. But missing from the conversation has been the connection between housing and jobs. It’s good to target and grow certain industries, but we must also consider if workers employed in those industries will be able to affordably live here. A newly elected governor could bring a new vision for Rhode Island and HousingWorks RI at Roger Williams University (HWRI) wants to ensure that vision includes housing affordability as a public policy priority.
Early this summer we recognized the unique opportunity our annual Housing Fact Book Luncheon provided to insert housing into the hectic election season conversation. Each year HousingWorks RI puts out a Housing Fact Book looking at housing affordability in Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns. The book is released in the fall at a luncheon typically attended by about 200 business and community leaders along with elected officials and policy makers.
Knowing our strategy, we started working with all six gubernatorial campaigns back in July to help ensure their participation in the Oct. 3 event.
Rhode Island’s primary was held on Sept. 9. Cranston Mayor Allan Fung won the Republican nomination and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo won the Democratic nod. We were thrilled that local housing expert Barbara Fields agreed to host the conversation with the candidates. The former Regional Administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Fields asked a range of questions from implementation of the state’s plan to end chronic homelessness to reducing barriers to improve affordability of market rate homes.
The candidates each had 20 minutes for their own conversation with Fields. General Treasurer Raimondo spoke first and encouraged Rhode Island to have “big audacious goals” when it comes to housing. In particular, she said she would like Rhode Island to be the first state to end homelessness. Mayor Fung cited the lack of public investment as a barrier to more affordable housing and called for more Community Development Block Grant dollars to help Rhode Island’s cities and towns.
We were thrilled to have had the candidates on hand to speak about the future of housing and the economy in Rhode Island. Whatever the outcome for November’s election, we are hopeful that our next governor will have an integrated approach to improving housing affordability in our state to ensure a wide range of housing options that support the well-being and prosperity of Rhode Islanders. In turn, we’re confident this will lead to a brighter economic future for all of Rhode Island.
HousingWorks RI is a program in the Division of University Outreach and Engagement at Roger Williams University. HousingWorks RI at RWU is an authoritative source of information about housing in Rhode Island that conducts research analyzes data to inform public policy, and develops communications strategies and promote dialogue about the relationship between housing and the state’s economic future.