United Way of Rhode Island hosted nearly 300 Rhode Islanders in a day-long workshop on March 14 at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet to focus on this question: How does the lack of affordable safe, healthy homes impact our economy and what can we do to fix it?
Residents came from all corners of the state and from multiple backgrounds and industries to learn about the issue and to participate in a design workshop to create solutions. The day opened with a welcome from Governor Gina Raimondo who thanked the audience for their participation, saying: “We need to work together to close Rhode Island’s housing gap.” The event ended with the announcement of a $150,000 fund at United Way of Rhode Island to provide support for ideas generated at the summit. Lead donations to the fund came from Bank of America and National Grid. Bank of America was also the presenting sponsor of the Housing for All Summit.
Throughout the day, solutions focused on what individuals, organizations, and policy makers could do to make a difference, from encouraging greater civic engagement and action to developing new thinking in sponsorships of housing developments.
“Nearly 75 percent of our audience participants today indicated that they have been worried about their housing at one point in their lives,” said Anthony Maione, president and CEO of United Way of Rhode Island. “In a state where half of all renter households and 1 in 3 homeowners are cost-burdened, spending more than one-third of their income on housing, working families and individuals are forced to make difficult choices among the basic needs they can afford. This affects health and future well-being.”
One of two keynote speakers, Dr. Megan Sandel, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center and Principal Investigator with Children’s HealthWatch, shared her belief that stable and affordable housing is one of the most effective vaccines for children’s overall health: “Only one in four of my patients have access to this ‘vaccine.’ And without stable housing, all of our other interventions fail.”
Through design-thinking workshops led by DownCity Design, participants engaged in activities that captured actionable responses to address Rhode Island’s lack of housing affordability. Groups began by mapping the issues that prevent Rhode Islanders from accessing quality housing they can afford, before moving to identifying interventions and brainstorming strategies to create new opportunities. Ideas generated ranged from working with individuals and organizations, to creating public policies that would ease barriers and help more Rhode Islanders into stable, affordable housing. In the coming months, United Way of Rhode Island and DownCity Design will share a report of the ideas generated, along with an action plan to address housing affordability.