Innovation Ecosystem

Crossing the wealth chasm in RI

As temperatures drop, the lack of affordable housing and an alarming number of unhoused Rhode Islanders threaten to create an election conundrum

Photo courtesy of ONE Neighborhood Builders

Residents have started moving into the Bowdoin Street Rowhouse, ONE|Neighborhood Builder's newly completed multifamily rental development in Olneyville, a modular construction project. Two of the apartments will provide housing for individuals who had been homeless.


By Richard Asinof
Posted 10/3/22
A negotiation between community providers and Gov. Dan McKee about the best strategy to pursue creating emergency shelters in Rhode Island has so far stayed below the radar screen.
Should the Governor declare a state of emergency to direct more state resources to create shelter for Rhode Islanders who are “unhoused?” What kind of behavioral health and mental health supports are needed to assist this population? What is the best way to have policy discussions in public, rather than behind closed doors?
When the news media reprints news releases verbatim, as news, it is an abdication of responsibility as a reporter, often times creating a distorted picture of what has occurred. Stories should always have a byline, identifying the author correctly, and if a story is taken directly from a news release, it should be identified as such.


PROVIDENCE – “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different than you and me,” the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald had opined in his short story, “The Rich Boy,” bestowing upon the rich a special status.

To which Ernest Hemingway had responded, in print, in his short story, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” throwing a succinct jab at Fitzgerald: “Yes, they have more money.”

That exchange has been repeated time and again, as a demarcation point in discussions about the wealthy in America.

The anecdote about Fitzgerald and Hemingway served as the opening paragraph in a story I wrote on assignment for Rhode Island Monthly in 1989, reporting on “the richest people in Rhode Island,” when the magazine was edited and published by Dan Kaplan.

I had tried to convince Kaplan to run a different story instead – about the “happiest people in Rhode Island,” to no avail. [I still think it would make for a great story – the happiest people in the Ocean State. Are you listening, Jamie Coehlo?]

More than three decades later, here in Rhode Island, it could be argued that what makes the rich different is not how much money they have, but rather, how many houses they own.

Take, for instance, the current controversy swirling about Ashley Kalus, the Republican candidate running for Governor, resembling a dense fog swallowing up Ocean Drive in Newport, as the thick mist obscured the shoreline.

Kalus and her husband, Dr. Jeffrey Weinzweig, had purchased a house in Newport for $770,000 in 2021. A year later, on Feb. 25, 2022, the couple signed paperwork, a “Second Home Rider,” when they took out a $615,000 mortgage on the Newport property, averring that the property was a second home and not their primary residence, as reported by WPRI’s Ted Nesi.

However, for purposes of paperwork filed with the R.I. Board of Elections, the Newport residence was said to be the couple’s primary residence, the address given when Kalus registered to vote in Rhode Island and the address used when she declared her intention to run for Governor, according to news reports.

In addition to the Newport property, the wealthy couple also owns a home in Florida, valued by Zillow at approximately $3.4 million, according to the WPRI news story. A third property, a home in Illinois, had been sold on Sept. 12 by the couple, according to news reports. [For the record, Gov. Dan McKee also owns a second home in Florida.]

Last week, questions about Kalus’ primary residence emerged as campaign fodder in the ongoing war of words between Gov. McKee and his Republican opponent, with the McKee campaign attempting to portray Kalus as a wealthy interloper without a real connection to Rhode Island.

A Kalus TV ad that had mispronounced “Pawtucket” added fuel to the controversy, with McKee then lashing out at Kalus, accusing her of being a “seagull manager.”

Matt Hanrahan, a spokesperson for Kalus, called the resulting news coverage about the real estate rider a distraction from the big issues in the gubernatorial race. “Are we seriously talking about a rider right now?” Hanrahan said, in response to questions from WPRI.

Hanrahan may have been right about the back-and-forth between the two candidates creating a distraction – but for the wrong reasons.

With just five weeks to go before Election Day on Nov. 8, the back-and-forth between Gov. McKee and candidate Kalus has served to cover up and to obscure a confrontation occurring between community service providers and Gov. McKee about the best strategy about how to respond the growing crisis of homelessness in Rhode Island.

Translated, the issue was not how many homes the wealthy owned, but rather, how many people were going to be living on the streets – and what risks the providers were willing to take on in confronting the Governor, having been allegedly warned not to go the news media about the content of the negotiations.

Here is the story of what happened, being reported for the first time by ConvergenceRI.


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