URI Photo by Nora Lewis.

URI to host Get Housing RIght Conference to explore affordable housing options locally, nationally

On the heels of a research project on public housing in Rhode Island, the URI Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies is hosting the two-day Get Housing RIght Conference in an effort to explore affordable housing options and public policy. 

The event will be hosted virtually May 12 and in-person at URI’s Providence Campus, 80 Washington St., on May 13. Day one will focus on public housing issues nationally, and day two will focus on public housing issues in Rhode Island. 

Jennifer Vincent, who graduates this May with a master’s degree in public administration, is the conference organizer. Vincent began working on the conference last semester after helping on a public housing research project. 

Research began in 2021 after several professors in the political science department were approached by the South Kingstown Housing Authority and asked to generate research on public housing in the state, she said. The Housing Authority wanted to create a new public housing development in town and wanted to ensure it would be developed effectively, she said. 

The team of professors, graduate students and undergraduate students then set out on a three-part research process. Funded by the Rhode Island Foundation, the South Kingstown Housing Authority, and the Jonnycake Center in Peace Dale, the team conducted about 300 door-to-door surveys of public housing residents living throughout the state. The surveys asked residents about their satisfaction with the physical conditions of public housing, access to amenities such as public transportation, and interactions with housing authorities. 

“Most of the people we spoke with were really appreciative that we were taking the time to not only find out about their specific experience in public housing, but also that we were going to take our findings and incorporate them into recommendations for public housing authorities and state-level decision makers,” Vincent said. 

The second part of the research developed a literature review of public housing best practices and policy recommendations. The research team then developed an oral history of public housing in South Kingstown for the Housing Authority. 

Along with Vincent, the team was made up of professors Skip Mark, Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz, Richard McIntyre, Robert W. Widell; graduate student Emmanuel Michaca; and undergraduates Mary Lind, Bolu Taiwo, Patrice Pierre, and Christina Fernandes.  

The idea for the housing conference resulted from Vincent’s enthusiasm for the research and the team’s hope to share the findings with more people. 

Mark, director of the Center for Nonviolence and Peace Studies and an assistant professor of political science, helped lead the research and support the conference development. He liked Vincent’s idea for a conference because it would be a strong way to bring policymakers and academics together to make effective policies. That was one of the goals of the South Kingstown Housing Authority. 

“I hope this is the start of a continuing effort to bridge the gap between academia and policymakers, grassroots organizations and activists,” Mark said. “I think academics have a lot to say, and I think we have a responsibility to put our knowledge, ideas and expertise into practice in ways that make the world a better place.” 

Vincent has focused most of her MPA coursework at URI on housing issues. She is passionate about affordable and effective public housing in the United States and throughout Rhode Island. She hopes the conference will generate discussion and advocacy for housing issues all over. 

“I think it’s important to come together as a community of people who care passionately about this issue to surface ideas, to connect with legislators, to connect with one another and to see where advocacy power lies as well as administrative power,” said Vincent. “There’s excitement and enthusiasm around all of the new ideas for affordable housing.” 

The first day of the Get Housing RIght Conference will be hosted virtually and bring in experts from around the country to talk about affordable housing. Diane Yentel of the National Low Income Housing Coalition will give the plenary welcome to day-one participants. Other panelists include Magda Maaoui of the University of Cergy-Paris, Rahul Vanjani of Providence Transitions Clinic, Brett Theodos from the Urban Institute and more. 

The second day of the conference, hosted at the Shepard Building in Providence, will focus solely on Rhode Island and welcome politicians, policy experts and URI community members for panels and discussions on affordable housing. President Marc Parlange and Sen. Jack Reed will open the second day of the conference. The featured panelists include state Rep. David Morales, state Rep. June Speakman, state Sen. Meghan Kallman, Brenda Clement of HousingWorks RI, and Mark and the URI research team. 

The second day will end with a community meal at AS220, a non-profit organization that celebrates the art community in Rhode Island. 

The Get Housing RIght Conference is free to attend and open to the public. It is supported by Homes RI. Registration is available at the conference website (web.uri.edu/nonviolence/get-housing-right-conference/) for more information as well as registration information for the conference. 

Kate LeBlanc, a senior journalism and political science major at the University of Rhode Island and an intern in the Department of Communications and Marketing, wrote this press release.



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