2021 Housing Fact Book: Inequities, health concerns plague Rhode Island

PROVIDENCE – A growing risk on health posed by older housing stock and increasingly unaffordable options for homes in Rhode Island are furthering social inequities throughout the Ocean State, according to the 2021 Housing Fact Book released on Friday by HousingWorks RI at Roger Williams University.

And the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these problems, according to the report, made with guidance and data from the R.I. Department of Health.

“This 2021 Housing Fact Book makes clear that housing is one of the many community level factors that impacts health outcomes very significantly,” said Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the R.I. Department of Health. “Everyone deserves the opportunity to live a healthy life, no matter their ZIP code, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, level of education, level of income, or insurance status. To make this vision a reality, we must ensure that everyone has access to healthy, affordable housing.”

HousingWorks RI is marking the release of the 2021 Housing Fact Book with a virtual launch event on Friday morning, presenting key findings with commentary from Annette Bourne, HousingWorks RI’s research and policy director, and a keynote speech from guest Adrianne Todman, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

- Advertisement -

The 2021 Housing Fact Book makes the claim that only one community in Rhode Island, Burrillville, offers apartments that those earning the state’s median renter income of $36,078 could “affordably rent.”

With the median household income in the state of $67,167, there are no cities or towns that offer affordable home prices in Rhode Island, according to the report, with the costs of home ownership for a median-priced single-family home in Providence now at $69,057.

Brenda Clement, director of HousingWorks RI, said elected leaders need to invest more in affordable housing to reduce the impact of health disparities. Clement said the time for lawmakers to “produce, preserve and sustain Rhode Island’s housing inventory is long overdue.” Rhode Island’s current level of investment in affordable housing, at $18.34 per capita in 2020, is lower than all other New England states, she said.

“The affordability crisis in Rhode Island has only been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19,” Clement said. “Urgent housing needs across the state, and the continued barriers to the development of new homes, underscore the need for state and local leaders to remain vigilant in their efforts to ensure adequate funding.”

Many of the homes and apartments within the boundaries of affordability for lower-income families in Rhode Island come with health risks, since nearly 75% of homes in the state predate safety regulations for contaminants like lead and asbestos, which may be found in paint and plumbing, contributing to the health risks of lead poisoning and unsafe drinking water. And of the 66,588 children aged 5 and under in Rhode Island, 73% live in houses and apartments built before 1980, before the U.S. adopted safety regulations for contaminants in materials for home construction.

Of the nearly 3/4 of the state’s housing stock built before 1980, less than 10% hold a temporary lead certificate, issued by the state to homeowners that have gone through remediation.

“A substantial number of children continue to live in homes built before 1980,” the fact book states. “Mitigating that risk remains a high priority of ensuring a healthy home.”

Another statistic highlighted by the report was that more than 140,000 Rhode Island households, or nearly 35% of households, are “housing cost burdened,” meaning that they pay more than 30% of their income on housing, which leaves less money for households to spend in the local economy.

The report also states that 74% of renter households with incomes under $14,764 are “cost burdened,” including 17,000 Rhode Island households that pay more than 50% of their income on housing costs, making them “severely cost burdened.”

The 2021 Housing Fact Book points out that disparities based on race are playing out in Rhode Island’s housing situation, with white households experiencing the lowest rates of cost burden and severe cost burden, while Black and Latino households are facing the highest rates of both.

“Particularly concerning is the 40% of Black and Latino owner households experiencing cost burdens, especially the 20% of Black homeowners who are severely cost burdened,” the fact book states. “With 1 in 5 Black homeowners paying more than 50% of their income to housing costs, one household emergency puts them at risk of delinquency or foreclosure.”

The fact book states that the homeownership rate for white households in Rhode Island is 68%, double the rate of Black households and more than double the rate of Latino households. The report also states that the Rhode Island homeownership rate for Blacks, Latinos and Asians are 10, 19 and 12 percentage points lower, respectively, than the national rates of 44%, 49% and 60%, respectively, for those groups.

At the same time, homelessness is on the rise in Rhode Island, according to the 2021 Housing Fact Book. The amount of unsheltered adults increased 68% from 2020 to 2021, according to the fact book.

And homelessness is impacting minorities more than their white fellow Rhode Islanders.

According to a summary of report findings released by HousingWorks RI, Black people, including those of Hispanic ethnicity, are experiencing homelessness at a rate nearly “4 times higher than their share of the general population, currently representing more than 25% of those experiencing homelessness.”

THE 2021 HOUSING FACT BOOK was released on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021, by the nonprofit HousingWorks RI, with assistance from the Rhode Island Department of Health. / COURTESY HOUSINGWORKS RI
THE 2021 HOUSING FACT BOOK was released on Oct. 15 by the nonprofit HousingWorks RI at Roger Williams University, with assistance from the R.I. Department of Health. / COURTESY HOUSINGWORKS RI AT ROGER WILLIAMS UNIVERSITY

HousingWorks RI also ranks the most and least affordable places to rent or own a home. The city of Providence, without including the East Side, is the most affordable place to own a home in Rhode Island, followed by Pawtucket, based on 2020 median single-family home prices, while the most expensive community for homeownership is New Shoreham, followed by the East Side of Providence. The most affordable place to rent, according to the 2021 Housing Fact Book, is Burrillville, followed by Woonsocket, while the most expensive place to rent is West Greenwich, followed by South Kingstown.

In a statewide look, the median single-family home price is $319,000, up 30% from the average of $245,820 in 2015, according to the 2021 Housing Fact Book, while the average two-bedroom apartment now goes for $1,660, up 3% since 2015. About 39% of Rhode Islanders live in rented homes and apartments, while 61% live in owned homes, the report states.

Alexander-Scott said she hopes to build on the 2021 Housing Fact Book and other efforts to shine a light on housing, along with its impact on social inequities and health disparities.

“The R.I. Department of Health will continue to partner with HousingWorks RI and organizations throughout Rhode Island that are working to build health through efforts like this at the community level,” Alexander-Scott said.

Marc Larocque is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Larocque@PBN.com.