“10 new AmeriCorps members have just been trained to assist economically disadvantaged households across the state of Rhode Island in accessing and maintaining safe affordable housing.”
This autumn launched “Accessing Home”, a brand new initiative that will assist lower income individuals in finding and maintaining housing throughout Rhode Island. The program is a partnership between NeighborWorks Black Stone River Valley and the Housing Network of RI that implements much needed renter education and counselling to support Rhode Islanders in need of affordable housing.
As a NeighborWorks AmeriCorps VISTA member dedicated to Accessing Home, I have spent these past few weeks creating curriculum and providing guidance to our increasing cohort of AmeriCorps members. These members will be serving with different community development corporations and housing authorities throughout the state. They are the kind face in front of the classroom and helpful voice on the phone trained to support people currently residing within affordable units and those on the waitlist for affordable homes.
Our AmeriCorps members will provide assistance in two forms: through group classes as part of our “Rent RIte” curriculum, and one-on-one counselling as part of the “Back-on-Track” program. Classes will prepare prospective renters for successful tenancy through training in budgeting, credit, landlord relations, and the rental process. “Back-on-Track” works to assist current residents overcome obstacles in life that make it difficult for them to make on-time rent payments. The “Back-on-Track” program provides one-on-one counselling to residents resulting in the development of a budget and action plan for future success.
Throughout our network of housing agencies, there are over 2400 prospective tenants on wait lists for housing. Many of these people will spend years waiting for an affordable home. This marks a dire need for affordable housing in our state. A need I understand all too well. I was born and raised in Rhode Island, and completed my undergraduate studies here. After college, I did a year of AmeriCorps service through the Nonviolence Institute in Providence. Here, they focused on teaching the principles of nonviolence as a way to build safe communities. I was able to provide education to adult students and assist them with their GED certification.
I quickly found that most of our classroom time was spent unloading and rehashing daily life stressors—most of which boiled down to bills and the constant stress of securing a roof over our heads. These people were hard working folks, balancing school, work, families…and yet they still struggled to maintain safe, clean, and steady housing. It was this realization that lead me to continue my service with NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley in Woonsocket. Over the past few years of my life, I have learned that if you don’t have your basic need of shelter met, it is nearly impossible to focus on anything else.
Accessing Home AmeriCorps members are working with the Pawtucket Housing Authority, the Central Falls Housing Authority, West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation, Church Community Housing Corporation, the Housing Network of Rhode Island, Newport Housing Authority, One Neighborhood Builders/OHC, Pawtucket Central Falls Development, and the Providence Housing Authority. Over the next 3 years, the program will expand to many more partners and include 20 AmeriCorps members. We are seeking 1 more full-time and 4 more part-time AmeriCorps members for positions available throughout the state. For more information on becoming an AmeriCorps member, contact Laura Roach at 401.762.0993 ext. 205 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is ground breaking work. It helps bring people home, and keep them in their homes. It supports families while providing a cost savings to the housing organization. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is also the smart thing to do. In training the new AmeriCorps members for this program, we each set a goal for our year. My goal is to make affordable housing a reality, one Rhode Islander at a time!
This program has been made possible by the generous support of our funders: The Corporation for National and Community Service, NeighborWorks America, The United Way of Rhode Island, and Citizens Bank.