By ARDEN BASTIA Since her appointment as the state's 70th Lieutenant Governor on April 14, Sabina Matos has used her platform to champion affordable housing initiatives. Matos spoke about her agenda during the Warwick Rotary Club's Zoom meeting last
Since her appointment as the state’s 70th Lieutenant Governor on April 14, Sabina Matos has used her platform to champion affordable housing initiatives.
Matos spoke about her agenda during the Warwick Rotary Club’s Zoom meeting last Thursday.
She said her goal is to get “input from everyone from different communities. I don’t want communities to feel like they’re being forced to take a type of housing that they don’t need or don’t want. I want to hear everybody’s voice.”
Matos started working in the housing arena when she was on the board of directors for Olneyville Housing, now called ONE Neighborhood Builders.
“I believe we need to develop housing at all income levels throughout the state, and this is going to help us grow the population of the state which will translate to economic benefits,” she said.
Matos’s plan to tackle the housing crisis is to first establish a coalition with other housing justice advocates across the state. She wants to create a housing summit that brings together the state’s housing developers, social justice advocates, and leaders from all communities.
Matos said she’s meeting one-on-one with community members who have worked in housing, like Frank Shea, former director of ONE Neighborhood Builders, and Dave Caldwell, a home builder from North Kingstown.
Speaker of the House K. Joseph Shekarchi introduced a package of bills concerning housing in late March. The first bill, creates a legislative commission to study all aspects of land use, preservation, development, production, and zoning. The commission would be able to make recommendations to enable the state to ensure and promote land use that allows for sustainable and equitable economic growth in support of efforts to achieve the state’s affordable housing goals. The second bill creates a commission to study the Rhode Island Low and Moderate Income Housing Act to study the ways to meet the state’s affordable housing challenges. The House passed both bills.
These bills address the issue of zoning to allow for the construction of tiny houses. These houses, between 400 and 800 square feet, would be built on small pieces of property or join existing housing. Housing justice advocates throughout the state, like Renew Rhode Island, have lauded tiny homes as a possible solution to Rhode Island’s affordable housing crisis.
Matos said she is “still learning” about the tiny house initiatives, but is working alongside the House of Hope, which currently has an example of the temporary tiny shelters on their property in Warwick. The House of Hope is in the process of building 30 temporary emergency shelters for people experiencing homelessness.
Housing initiatives like the tiny homes, says Matos, “must be done community by community. I don’t think it’s something that can be applied to every community at the same time.”
Prior to her appointment as lieutenant governor, she served on the Providence City Council from January 2011 to April 2021. During that period, she was elected as the first Latina to hold the position of City Council president pro tempore in 2015, and in 2019, she was elected City Council president. She has the distinction of being the first Latina to hold both positions in the city’s history. As the councilwoman for Ward 15, she represented the neighborhoods of Olneyville as well as parts of the Silver Lake and Valley neighborhoods.
Matos was born in the province of Barahona in the Dominican Republic and later moved to the nation’s capital of Santa Domingo. In April 1994, she moved to the United States, first arriving in New York City where she lived for a short time before moving to Providence with her family.
Matos graduated from Rhode Island College in 2001 with a BA in Communications and Public Relations. She is also a graduate of the Latina Leadership Institute and Leadership for a Future. She also attended and graduated from the Aspen Institute’s Rodel Fellowship Program, an invitation-only fellowship program for elected officials at all levels in the United States. She graduated in the same cohort as U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and California’s Attorney General Rob Bonata.
“I feel very fortunate that Gov. McKee selected me for this opportunity to be lieutenant governor for the state of Rhode Island,” she said at Thursday’s meeting. “I’m very conscious about what an honor it is, and my goal is to work really hard to make sure I don’t let down the governor or the state.”
For Matos, family is everything.
“I always go back to my family,” she said. “Everything I do in politics, and the decisions I make, my guiding principle is, is this something that my father or my mother would be ashamed of? Or is this something that my kids are one day going to feel ashamed of? So I promise to work hard to not let anyone down.”
When Matos was growing up in the Dominican Republic, her father was the mayor of her hometown of Paraiso.
“I never thought I was going to be an elected official. Even though my dad was mayor of my hometown,” she said. “I remember seeing him work as a mayor. I was really young at that time, but I remember my mother working as a teacher. My house was always the place where people would go if they were looking for something, or needed help or assistance. When we moved to the capital city of Santo Domingo, I remember that my house became the place where people would stay.”
Matos said her community-centered upbringing has stuck with her to this day.
“If I’ve learned one thing my experience, it’s that in politics, there is not a permanent enemy or a permanent ally. If you want to get the job done, you have to be willing to work with everybody,” she said. “How can you say, ‘I cannot work with this person’? That’s not the right attitude.”
In her new role as lieutenant governor, Matos wants to make some changes.
She said she’s looking forward to working with Gov. McKee “in a new way.”
“I, like him, believe that the positions should be running together as one ticket. Eventually, hopefully, we can get that to happen,” she said. “Just look what happened when Gov. Raimondo got appointed to be the Secretary of Commerce. Gov. McKee was not part of the process and now he comes in and is trying to catch up with everything that is going on. Especially in the middle of a pandemic and the crisis that we’re going through, I think the state of Rhode Island would benefit a lot from having the offices run together on one ticket.”