I’ve been meaning to point to this short Christine Dunn article in the Providence Journal because it’s like the tip of an iceberg of disservice from all of us who strive to keep the public informed about the activities of their government so voters can make informed decisions and hold their elected officials accountable. Dunn mentions that (surprise, surprise) the Housing Network of Rhode Island and Rhode Island Housing are happy that Democrat Governor Gina Raimondo has included $40 million of debt for their “affordable housing” cause, but they wanted more: $100 million.
Most people are simply too busy and disinterested to take the time to investigate all of these organizations, so even if they come across their names, and even if they wonder for a moment how they are set up and who funds them, they’ll generally move on from the article only with the sense that these are some sort of well-meaning interest groups, maybe little more than volunteers trying to secure funds for a cause in which they believe.
Rhode Island Housing, for one, isn’t a private organization, but one of those “quasi-public” organizations that the state government sets up to do things that the state government isn’t supposed to be doing. It has revenue of nearly $40 million, of which $21 million goes to operating costs, including about $14 million for employees. The salary of its director, Barbara Fields, isn’t easy to find quickly, but her predecessor contracted for $181,000 in his final year. In fiscal year 2015, RI Housing received $7.3 million from the federal Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, for which Fields used to work.
The Housing Network is a private organization, with 2013 revenue of $421,877, $72,598 from government grants, and paying its director, Christine Hannifan, around $87,000. The network is at the center, as the “state association,” of a number of Community Development Corporations.
One of those CDCs is House of Hope, whose executive director is president of the Housing Network’s board. House of Hope’s 2013 revenue was around $2 million, $1.2 million of it from government grants, and it pays its director, Jean Johnson, around $84,000.
Of course the net can be widened. Both House of Hope and the Housing Network are linked to the RI Coalition for the Homeless, with Johnson on its board and the Housing Network paying it $7,001 in 2015 for lobbying services. The Coalition had 2013 revenue of $822,205, $589,202 of it in government grants, and pays its director, James Ryczek, around $76,000 per year.
Thorough research would wind its way through multiple organizations and a crowd of paid lobbyists, donated-to politicians, and government agencies, all floating on a bed of taxpayer cash. Not every article should repeat the details, but it would be beneficial for some context always to accompany mention of these groups and their advocacy.