Our Stories

Housing Is Healthcare

In an op-ed for the Providence Journal, LISC Rhode Island executive director Jeanne Cola lays out the imperative of ramping up funding for affordable housing in the wake of Covid-19 and tackling the systemic problems that created the affordability crisis in the first place. The pandemic's economic fallout is leaving more people than ever vulnerable to homelessness, and the time to prevent more housing instability is now.

The below op-ed was originally published by Providence Journal:
My Turn: Jeanne Cola: In a time of pandemic, housing is health care

It soon will be June, and the rent will be due.

Many homeowners and renters in Rhode Island were struggling to make their payments before anyone heard of COVID-19. More than a third of our households were cost burdened prior to the crisis and spent more than 30% of their income on housing costs. Of these 140,074 households, 43% of these families were severely cost burdened and spent more than 50% of their income on housing. That was before more than 248,000 Rhode Islanders filed claims for unemployment.

As we collectively work to address the immediate crisis, we must not lose sight of the lessons COVID has provided: That we are an intertwined and co-dependent network of families who are deeply affected by what happens to our neighbors. We see the value of stable and secure housing and its foundational impact on health and welfare. The inequities in the housing sphere create co-morbitities that impact all facets of success: employment, education and enjoyment.

This epidemic has exposed America’s fault lines. We need to use this opportunity to address the systemic problems that have contributed to the inequity. As we repair our economy and retrain our workforce for the new jobs — and address education and food security in a new era — the foundational issue that supports the recovery in every sector is housing.

We need to get this right. That means being laser focused on addressing housing security through all means possible: through state and federal funding, through charitable and foundation giving, through workforce development, through creating more nimble processes for building, permitting and funding. We need to think creatively and work together to address what surely will be a tsunami of need in the coming months and years.

This epidemic has exposed America’s fault lines. We need to use this opportunity to address the systemic problems that have contributed to the inequity.

This virus is a great catastrophe, but also a great opportunity for Rhode Islanders. As we start the slow process of reopening our economy, we must deploy our resources on the economic levers that have the most impact. That means using targeted programs to expand housing options at all levels to support a healthy economic ecosystem and community vibrancy. Housing is health care.

The pandemic has left low- and moderate-income tenants unable to pay rent and landlords without the income to make needed repairs and pay mortgages. Unless we act now, Rhode Island will experience increased homelessness and bankrupt owners resulting in more foreclosed homes throughout our neighborhoods.

We are grateful to the governor for dedicating $1.5 million in CARES Act Emergency Solutions Grant funds to assist very low-income Rhode Islanders through HousingHelpRI.com. That money was depleted in astonishingly record time, which underscores the critical need we have in the community.

Rhode Island’s recovery from COVID-19 must put housing first. We not only need to protect the resources usually dedicated to housing but also expand those to include a dedicated funding stream and a bond, neither of which will impact the state budget. Without stable housing, you cannot maintain your health, focus on educating yourself or your children, secure employment or be productive at work.

As a leading community development financial institution, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) works with these sectors and stands ready to do its part. For 30 years, LISC has supported the development and preservation of 8,330 affordable homes and apartments in Rhode Island. But it will take collective and cross-sector action to adequately protect our vulnerable residents and preserve affordable housing. The time for talk is over. The time for action is now.


Jeanne Cola, Executive Director, LISC Rhode Island
Jeanne became the executive director of LISC Rhode Island in 2011. Prior to that, she had been an active member on the LISC Rhode Island Local Advisory Committee and worked at Citizens Bank.