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Rep. June Speakman reminds us: Home is where we eat, sleep, work and sustain our families

Photo by Richard Asinof

Rep. June Speakman, featured member of a response panel on March 28 for new research conducted by Housing Works RI

By Richard Asinof
Posted 4/10/23
Here is a question-and-answer interview with State Rep. June Speakman, who has emerged as a key legislative leader on housing.
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PROVIDENCE – When it comes to housing in Rhode Island, State Rep. June Speakman has her hands on the pulse of what is happening.

Speakman serves as chair of the study commission on The Rhode Island Low and Moderate Income Housing Act, which has proven to be a no-nonsense place where the facts are presented in such a way as to create a path forward during a time of crisis. The Commission’s work has led to specific legislation championed by R.I. House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi.

Most recently, Rep. Speakman was part of a panel of elected officials responding to research conducted by HousingWorks RI, focused on “Women and Housing: A Rhode Island Snapshot.” [See link below to ConvergenceRI story, “Women at higher risk of housing insecurity.”]

Following the session, ConvergenceRI reached out to Rep. Speakman, asking a series of questions. Here are her responses, in her direct, pithy fashion:

ConvergenceRI: What makes the work of the Commission you chair so important, given that it is occurring during a window of opportunity for policy changes?
SPEAKMAN: For a very long time, the state of Rhode Island has lacked the administrative capacity to address the housing needs of Rhode Islanders.

The Commission and the General Assembly have addressed that by creating a Department of Housing

The Commission has also been the starting point for many of the policy ideas that inform the House housing bills, all aimed to increase the supply and affordability of housing in the state.

ConvergenceRI: The phrase that housing is health care is a recurring theme in many discussions. Do you agree? How does that belief play out — or not — in the work of the Commission?
SPEAKMAN: Without a safe, warm, dry, comfortable home, it is difficult to do all the other things that keep a person and their family healthy. A home is where we eat, sleep, work and sustain our families. It’s all connected.

ConvergenceRI: What were your takeaways from today’s session about women and housing sponsored by HousingWorks RI? What did the research presented reveal to you?
SPEAKMAN: Unsurprisingly, because of the wage gap, women face more housing cost burdens than men. And also, it is no surprise that older women face an even greater burden finding suitable housing and paying for it.

ConvergenceRI: What has seemed to resonate during this ongoing housing crisis are the stories that people tell about their own experiences with housing challenges – and the ability to be heard and listened to. What makes those stories so powerful to share in public?
SPEAKMAN: Many of us have experienced housing insecurity: a notice from your landlord that he’s selling the building; a notice from your boss that you’re being laid off; the death of the family breadwinner. All of these are experiences that we can imagine, even if we have not experienced them. The real life stories hit close to home, if you will.

ConvergenceRI: Here are two questions that are for the Commission [but feel free to answer for this interview, too, if you choose].

• Recovery housing for those Rhode Islanders who are emerging from treatment from substance use disorders is a critical component in their own recovery. What is the state’s responsibility to provide resources for such housing, particularly for parents of young children?

• What are the opportunities for the state to partner with the private sector to create housing opportunities for employees in a campus situation for nurses, technicians, and community health care workers for those Rhode Islanders working with hospitals, nursing homes, or large-scale practices, such as Ortho RI or Brown Physicians Inc.?
SPEAKMAN: These are great questions. Let me put them on the Commission’s agenda and see if we can get an expert to address them.

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