Increasing home ownership is a top priority. That’s why we invested in the down payment assistance program, which provides financial assistance for first-time homeowners. We also aim to keep people in their homes through our $4.5 million home repair program.
Our housing challenges have been accumulating for many years and will not be easily remedied. Solutions will take time. But, by advancing key initiatives together with the General Assembly, municipalities, and housing practitioners, we are getting started in earnest.
Last year, the state committed an unprecedented $250 million in State Fiscal Recovery Funds to housing production and preservation. And we started putting this money to work rapidly. In May, we were proud to award over $100 million to support the construction and preservation of more than 1,400 housing units across Rhode Island in the coming years.
Additionally, during this past legislative session, our administration doubled down on our commitment to housing with a budget that includes an additional $101.5 million for housing, along with the passage of a set of bills advanced by legislative leaders that will bring greater efficiency and predictability to our local zoning and development processes. These important steps forward are thanks to Speaker Joseph Shekarchi and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio. This breakthrough moment is also the result of years of work by advocates for such investments and reform.
The new investments fall into three categories. First, we are focused on filling the project budget gaps that prevent developments from getting built. Second, we are helping municipalities overcome barriers to housing production. Third, we are providing resources to address homelessness in our state.
A major point of progress is the debut of a much-needed tax credit. For too long, Rhode Island was one of only two states in the Northeast that did not have a state-level low-income housing tax credit, but not anymore. Over the next few years, we will be allocating $30 million annually, which will leverage millions more from the counterpart federal tax credit program. We will also create a new priority projects fund to provide housing for the most vulnerable, including economically struggling Rhode Islanders, domestic violence survivors, and people with disabilities.
To help municipalities overcome barriers to development, we are providing $4.3 million for housing-related infrastructure, to help cover costs for water and sewer system extensions that will enable new development. To support understaffed towns’ capacity, we are creating a municipal fellows program, and offering technical assistance related to transit-oriented development. Investment in transit-oriented development enables us to develop density where there’s already infrastructure, while reducing household transportation budgets and carbon emissions.
We are mindful that this past year has brought extraordinary temperatures and it’s at these times we think even more about Rhode Islanders who are living outdoors and without shelter. This year’s budget includes new funding to address homelessness, both for services and new sites. We hear from local leaders that they would expand emergency shelter for Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness, but that such centers involve additional costs related to emergency medical services, sanitation, supportive services, and public safety. So we are providing $2.5 million to help cover these expenses. As homelessness is centrally about the lack of attainable housing, we remain focused on building permanent housing paired with essential services, to bring the best results for those with the greatest needs.
A key strategic move will be the creation of a new proactive development entity. In partnership with Rhode Island Housing and a newly staffed Housing Department, this proactive development team will lean into the housing production process to assist developers and communities as they solve problems related to the new housing they’re pursuing.
There is no question our state, like all others, faces challenges when it comes to housing. We won’t solve these problems overnight, but we are working to make progress every day. Step by step, we will collaborate with local communities, developers, civic groups, businesses, and advocates to build a more affordable Rhode Island.
Dan McKee is Rhode Island’s 76th governor. Stefan Pryor is Rhode Island’s secretary of housing.