As our state grapples with how to address a crisis in our schools, we want to share some key learnings that the Local Initiatives Support Corporation has discovered over the course of our 40-year history of national community revitalization: When considering solutions to address a massive systemic failure, improvements have to be made on many fronts to see results.
LISC has worked nationally through 35 offices and a large rural footprint and found that safety, education, job success, financial achievement, housing infrastructure and health equity all work synergistically to enrich our communities. If you pull only one string in that tapestry, it may produce a fleeting improvement, but at the expense of the others.
This is especially true as it relates to education. The connection is well known and supported through scholarly research and educational theory, as well as our own common sense. In Providence, where we are focusing on education, the 2019 Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook tells us that 36% of our children live in poverty. Children who don’t have a safe, secure home — or food on the table — cannot excel in school.
And the need for safe, affordable housing in Rhode Island is dramatic. According to the 2018 HousingWorks Fact Book, 35% of Rhode Island households are considered cost-burdened and spend more than 30% of their total income on housing. A staggering 44% of these households are extremely cost-burdened and spend more than half of their income on housing. The new statistics, out later this month, will show that we have made very little progress over the past year.
In 2018, LISC invested more than $25 million in Rhode Island, while R.I. Housing invested $780 million, and our community development partners have all done tremendous work in an increasingly complex environment. But we are not gaining ground in providing safe, affordable homes for our many seniors and the elderly, workers, millennials, single parents, children and veterans, in addition to our disabled or most vulnerable residents.
As we look at bold ways to improve dismal test scores and address high absenteeism in schools, now is the time to take a holistic approach to address the problem and provide a consistent funding mechanism to add, or restore, stable and secure housing for Rhode Island residents.
Jeanne Cola is executive director of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation.