Ten years ago, rents and home prices were hitting record highs. Because housing plays a role in many of our priorities, we were open to taking on a larger role on the issue. The state housing agency had just launched an initiative to educate policymakers about a rapidly emerging drag on the state’s economy: the growing cost of housing for everyday Rhode Islanders. HousingWorks RI was just the platform for us to take on that larger role. Together with Rhode Island Housing and the United Way of Rhode Island, we recruited a coalition of business and community organizations that believed what we believed – the housing shortage was choking opportunity at all levels.
By 2006, HousingWorks RI had convinced state policymakers to float a $50 million bond. For the first time ever, voters would be asked to approve funding for affordable homes. Advocacy was an unprecedented role for us, but then this was an unprecedented opportunity. We jumped in with funding and day-to-day management of a statewide public education campaign that included everything from grassroots outreach to billboard and TV ads. Our investment in the “Vote Yes on 9” campaign paid off. The bond passed with 62 percent of vote and ultimately financed the creation of more than 1,200 affordable homes.
Although the bond money was building a lot of housing, we knew we couldn’t let up. HousingWorks RI moved in with us. Full-time staff were hired as corporate supporters joined the United Way, Rhode Island Housing, and us in underwriting the ongoing research and advocacy that became the heart of the organization’s work. HousingWorks RI became an authoritative source of information about housing in Rhode Island, conducting research and analyzing data to inform public policy around about the relationship between housing and the state’s economic future.
A second bond campaign followed in 2012. Once again there was a public education campaign and once again voters were with us, approving a $25 million bond that produced 680 affordable houses and apartments. HousingWorks RI’s stature was growing. When the chance to partner with Roger Williams University came along a year later, HousingWorks RI took it.
We are proud of our work with HousingWorks RI over the years. The resources of Roger Williams University has enabled the organization to expand its crucial work of providing policymakers and the public with solid data and context around the importance of investing in healthy and affordable housing.