Civil Rights

McKee administration issuing cash bonuses to landlords during a booming market

“There are over 200 people, individuals as well as those living in families, currently staying outside. Winter shelter subsidies are expiring, which means that hundreds more are likely to be living outside in the next few months. The state must provide temporary emergency shelter with a path to permanent housing now for at least 500 individuals and families. Landlord incentives will not solve this problem…”
Photo for McKee administration issuing cash bonuses to landlords during a booming market

Published on May 3, 2022
By Steve Ahlquist

Rhode Island Governor Daniel McKee, RIHousing, Amos House, and the RI Association of Realtors announced a new landlord challenge Monday to provide permanent housing for over 150 households who have been experiencing homelessness and staying in hotel shelters since the onset of the pandemic.

“A lack of housing is one of the most critical challenges facing too many Rhode Islanders – and the rapid decline of available affordable units over recent years has only exacerbated this crisis,” said Governor McKee in a statement. “We have neighbors currently in hotel shelters who need to be re-housed, and this program will help meet that important need.”

According to the state’s Homeless Management Information System, over the two weeks ending April 16, 255 individuals have been reported as living outside in Rhode Island. This number will increase as people are forced to leave winter shelter. Those evicted from those beds have nowhere to go, as there are 932 individuals on waiting lists for individual and family shelter including 544 adults, and 388 individuals in 117 families with children.

The Governor recently told homeless advocates that this problem can wait until fall for a solution and instead announced this program, worked out with the RI Association of Realtors, a lobbying group for landlords with powerful access to elected leaders. According to Governor McKee’s press release:

Building off of a successful program launched in 2020, participating landlords across Rhode Island will be given incentives to provide available units to support this urgent housing need… All participating units must be available, safe and habitable. Landlords will receive a $3,000 signing bonus for the first unit signed on for a one year lease and $1,000 for each additional unit. Up to $3,000 per unit is available for reimbursement of necessary repairs. The program, when possible, will provide guaranteed rent for up to one year.

Housing advocates are doubtful this approach will have much impact.

“While those of us trying to end homelessness in Rhode Island appreciate trying to enlist landlords to provide some permanent housing, there are several problems with relying on this approach” said Professor Eric Hirsch, Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at Providence College.

Professor Hirsch noted two issues:

  1. Homelessness is being caused by a private rental market that has a historically low vacancy rate. Recently, it’s been as low as 2.8%, but needs to be at around 6% or 7% to function effectively. Due in part to the low supply of available units, rents have skyrocketed. The average rent in Providence is now over $2,000 per month requiring an annual household income of $80,000 to be affordable. Rhode Island must quickly build housing units with deep subsidies built into the projects themselves. The private sector will not solve the problem.
  2. There are over 200 people, individuals as well as those living in families, currently staying outside. Winter shelter subsidies are expiring, which means that hundreds more are likely to be living outside in the next few months. The state must provide temporary emergency shelter with a path to permanent housing now for at least 500 individuals and families. Landlord incentives will not solve this problem either.

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