Faces of the Housing Crisis in Rhode Island

We connected with people who found stability in subsidized housing.

According to the 2020 HousingWorks RI Factbook, more than 67 percent of families who rent in Rhode Island earn less than 80 percent of the area median income (AMI) — less than $66,000 for a family of four. We connected with a few people who found stability in subsidized housing.

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From left: Evelyn Guillen, Jane Elliot, Andrew Lamson and Wayne Church. All photography courtesy of LISC/Rupert Whiteley Photography, (except for Evelyn’s photograph). Research provided by LISC.

Evelyn Guillen
Age: Thirty-nine
Location: Maplewoods, a complex with forty affordable residential apartments in Providence.
Background: Guillen took courses at CCRI and URI and obtained several financial services certificates, but never completed her degree. She landed a job at a financial management company, but when her third child was born with severe spina bifida and required surgery for a shunt, Guillen needed to take time off from work and was laid off. The single mother of three is an insurance broker and small business owner, and she provides bilingual financial education and technical help for the elderly out of a community room at Stop Wasting Abandoned Properties (SWAP), an affordable housing community development corporation in Providence.
Current Situation: Guillen rents a three-bedroom apartment with handicapped access for $909 a month in the complex, built by SWAP using low income housing tax credits and investments from RI Housing and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC).

Jane Elliot
Age: Eighty
Location: Harbor House, an affordable housing complex for the elderly in Newport.
Background: Elliot was a child prodigy pianist who was adopted into a strict family. She spent most of her childhood practicing piano and earned a scholarship to the Juilliard School of Music in New York. However, she decided not to go and her family disowned her. She moved to Hawaii, where she hoped to start a family but never did, and eventually moved to Newport. She had no money and lived in the Church Community Housing’s homeless shelter.
Current Situation: The Harbor House, managed by Church Community Housing, is a renovated convent overlooking Narragansett Bay that has thirty-eight small apartments. Twenty-three are reserved for residents whose income is at or below 60 percent of AMI. Elderly with an income of $35,000 or less are eligible to rent small apartments for $820. Elliot pays for hers with a Section 8 voucher.

Andrew Lamson
Age: Thirty-three
Location: A mixed-use building on Westminster Street in Providence with retail on the first floor and two floors of apartments designed for handicapped residents.
Background: After graduating from South Kingston High School, Lamson wanted to live independently. He is outgoing and very active in the Rhody Rangers, a Special Olympics team where he participates as an athlete in basketball, track and golf. He loves animals, especially his cat, Zeus.
Current Situation: After being on multiple waiting lists for more than six years, Lamson moved into disabled housing managed by the West Broadway Neighborhood Association and served by Spurwink Realty Development Company, which offers supportive services as needed. Andrew works two custodial jobs, is on Social Security Disability and qualifies for the income-restricted apartment with 50 percent of median income. He pays $400 a month for his small one-bedroom apartment.

Wayne Church
Age: Fifty
Background: After returning home from deployment in the Persian Gulf in 1991, Church struggled with alcoholism and spent a year homeless, living in a tent in the woods. He camped through winter until his friend connected him with Operation Stand Down, which provides support services for at-risk veterans. He was set up in transitional housing where he lived for nearly ten years. Now he works the third shift at Lowe’s and has maintained sobriety for many years and through hip replacement surgery.
Current Situation: Church recently moved into a single apartment with an eat-in kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. Operation Stand Down Rhode Island has eighty-eight units of mixed housing (transitional and permanent) throughout the state. Residents who reside in permanent housing pay 30 percent of their income.