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Report: Affordable housing ‘essential’ to R.I. growth

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PROVIDENCE – Workers in Rhode Island’s three most-frequently employed occupation groups earn less than needed to afford the average two-bedroom apartment in the Ocean State, according to HousingWorks RI’s spring report, which called affordable housing an “essential” part of the state’s economic development.

In order to afford to rent the average two-bedroom apartment, a household must earn $47,040 – or $24.12 an hour. The median income for renter households in Rhode Island in 2011 was $30,505.

As a result of high rental costs and modest median wages, nearly half of all Rhode Island renters are considered “housing cost burdened,” meaning that they pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs.

According to the report, a quarter of all Rhode Island renters pay more than 50 percent of their income on housing costs. Twenty-six percent of renter households aged 65 or older spend more than half of their income on housing, with families with children up to 17 pay an average 32 percent of their salaries on housing and female-headed families pay 33 percent of their salaries on housing.

Of the lowest-wage renters, 78 percent are considered housing cost burdened and 64 percent spend more than half of their income on housing, said the report. “High housing cost burdens also make it extremely difficult to save money or invest in education as a way to move out of poverty,” said the report.

The report went on to suggest strategic investments in affordable housing that can “save tax dollars and create vibrant communities that attract business and keep quality workers in our state.”

According to HousingWorks RI, Rhode Island currently only funds the capital dollars needed to build affordable housing, but has no investment to support the operating expenses associated with these developments to keep rents affordable, often leading to an increasing homelessness problem.

The report added that research has “consistently proven” that it is more cost effective to permanently house homeless persons with supportive services than to keep them cycling through emergency shelters.

“Policymakers must also consider high housing cost burdens when developing policies to promote economic growth,” urged HousingWorks.

The report said that Rhode Islanders who spend more than half of their incomes on housing “cannot fully participate in their local economies.”

“Quite simply, affordable housing is an essential part of our state’s economic infrastructure and necessary for economic growth,” said the report. “The holistic approach to funding affordable housing must include an investment in both capital and operating expenses to keep rents affordable for low- and moderate-income Rhode Islanders.”

To view the full report, visit: www.housingworksri.org.

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