221110ind housing

Sen. Jack Reed speaks during a press conference held on Thursday at the Reynolds Farm development in Norrh Kingstown to announce a new Request for Proposals for over $166 million in funding to support affordable housing efforts in Rhode Island. Also pictured are Gov. Dan McKee, right, and Department of Housing Secretary Josh Saal.

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Affordable housing efforts in the state have received a boost through more than $166 million allocated for projects statewide.

Chris Little, chairman of the South Kingstown Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners said the state help is much welcomed locally in towns around South County.

“As the South Kingstown Housing Authority embarks on a program to replace our dilapidated family housing units and to increase the number of low and moderate-income housing units available for our residents, we are particularly excited about this news of substantial state support,” he said.

“We have already benefited from technical support provided by Housing Secretary Josh Saal and his staff and look forward to working with them and others from the Governor’s staff as we transform the housing opportunities available in South Kingstown,” he added.

For some residents, like Val Williams of South Kingstown, it was needed a while ago. Last year she and her family were on the verge of having nowhere to live because of a lack of affordable housing.

The 56-year-old breadwinner for her family, which included two kidney transplant recipients and a disabled mother-in-law, was scared. She had to be out of her Stone Bridge Drive rented house because it was being sold to capitalize on skyrocketing real estate prices.

Then there was Bethany Delon, whose young son was recovering from stage-four cancer treatments and was also pregnant at the time. She, her son and her husband also had to vacate where they were living.

“We really do not know what to do. We are praying for a miracle to happen within the next couple of weeks. We never thought we would get to a point in life where we are working and homeless,” she told The Independent at the time.

Delon is now in a rental in North Kingstown and William just found affordable housing in Exeter after 16 months of searching. These are just two of thousands in the state caught in the crushing vice of rising costs of living, incomes not keeping pace and housing costs out of reach.

Personal hardship stories of these renters — mirrored by want-to-be homeowners, too —  capture the quest of people attempting to escape the tumbling waves of a post-pandemic housing bonanza for owners selling properties or charging above-average costs for rent.

A year ago the state Commission of Health Advocacy and Equity reported that there were no communities in Rhode Island with sufficient low- to moderate-income housing units.  Most communities have one affordable housing unit for every five eligible households.

Real estate prices have skyrocketed in South County as many gut-to-the-studs renovations have occurred as well as part-time summer residents joining people relocating and both groups becoming full-time residents.

These changes take off-the-market homes that were once available for rent and at affordable prices, if just for the long fall and winter seasons.

For the average-income person, a 980-square-foot 130-year-old house with just two bedrooms goes for about $438,000, a price well beyond something low- and moderate-income wage earners can afford, most of them say.

The promise of the funding, which comes through a variety of federal and state sources, is better late than never say those who can benefit from it down the road.

It taps into a serious problem across the state and in South County along the coastline in particular — the lack of housing for people near or below the poverty line as well as those middle-class Rhode Island households estimated to earn between $60,000 to $70,000 per year.

“Every week we see local families being forced into hotels, cars, and campgrounds. The  Jonnycake Center is stepping in to create more affordable housing and we hope to be able to take advantage of these funding opportunities,” said Kate Brewster, executive director of the Jonnycake Center for Hope in Peace Dale. It serves the South County area.

State officials’ announcement was held last week at the Langford Estates senior housing development in North Kingstown. Part of a larger development known as “Reynolds Farm,” Langford Estates offers 40 units of senior housing just south of the junction of Post Road and Route 403.

The Langford Estates project has received $400,000 through the Site Acquisition program (SAP). Funded via the state’s allocation of federal Fiscal Recovery Funds, the Site Acquisition Program (SAP) provides grants to municipalities and for-profit or non-profit developers for the acquisition of properties that will be developed as affordable and supportive housing.

RIHousing in partnership with the state and the Rhode Island Housing Resources Commission (HRC), has adopted a universal funding application for developers to access this money to build affordable housing throughout the state.

The application consolidates the request for multiple financing sources and submits a request for proposals to the state. The funding list includes:

 

A total of $75 million has been allocated for new production or rehabilitation of income-eligible rental units for households with incomes at or below certain state-qualifying levels.

A total of $20 million to finance innovative proposals that seek to develop housing affordable to households with incomes for those increasingly caught in the gap between rising housing costs and ineligibility for other traditional state and federally-financed affordable housing.

$20 million has been allocated to finance the acquisition and redevelopment of blighted properties in qualified census tracts to increase the development of affordable housing. Projects may include commercial or community spaces that are ancillary to the housing and serve residents of affordable housing.

Approximately $9 million is available to support the development of housing for Qualifying Populations, which are individuals or households who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, are fleeing or attempting to flee domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking or human trafficking and would help prevent the family’s homelessness or would serve those with the greatest risk of housing instability.

Write to Bill Seymour, freelance writer covering news and feature stories, at independent.southcountylife@gmail.com.

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