Members of Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE)’s Tenant and Homeowner Association (THA) gathered outside the offices of RI Housing at 44 Washington Street in Providence Thursday morning to confront the Board of Commissioners about the “Property Acquisition and Revitalization Program.” The program is designed to distribute $10 million of the $50 million dollar affordable housing bond passed in November. Ten people, gathered outside of RI Housing’s offices and, after a brief press conference, entered their offices to address the Board of Commissioners.
“Right now, the program’s income limits allows people making up to $70,000 to get rental subsidies and start businesses, there are no guidelines to ensure that jobs go to local, unemployed residents and that no one is discriminated against due to a criminal record,” said THA leader Malchus Mills, “There are no residents of the communities where these homes and businesses will be created making decisions about where this money goes!”
According to the most recent Out of Reach report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), over half of Rhode Island renters (nearly 82,000 households) pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing. “Why would RI Housing be using state bond money to target people making 140 percent of Area Median Income, helping them start businesses and get housing, when so many people are struggling by on so much less?” asked Mills.
At 140 percent Area Median Income, people making as much as $70,000 a year would be eligible for funds.
Last month DARE leaders attended RI Housing informational sessions on plans for the “Property Acquisition and Revitalization Program,” but was disappointed that the program’s criteria targets higher income renters, includes no specifics on job creation and no genuine resident input on the needs for revitalization the program claims to address. After submitting written comments on May 23, 2017, DARE leaders decided to attend RIH’s Board of Commissioners meeting to protest program guidelines they maintain will benefit well-off Rhode Islanders at the expense of low-income families in need of housing and jobs.
Specifically DARE is demanding:
- income guidelines that target only the lowest income Rhode Islanders (30 – 60 percent of Area Median Income),
- criteria that target hiring to census tracts with the highest unemployment and poverty rates,
- an explicit ban on discriminating against those with criminal records,
- job training for new hires, health benefits, paid time off, and a living wage,
- decision-making power over grants for local residents in communities where funded projects will be cited, and
- a public report on how the money was spent and open, public meetings.
After the press conference the group went inside to deliver their written demands to the Board of Commissioners, who were meeting on the 2nd Floor. RI Housing executive director Barbara Fields greeted DARE representatives and RI Housing board chair Nicolas Retsinas noted that though the item was not on the day’s agenda, he wanted to give DARE the chance to air their concerns. He encouraged DARE leaders to reach out to the staff at RI Housing to discuss their concerns in more detail over the next few days.