New RIF report outlines problems, plans to address homelessness, housing

PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island Foundation on Monday released a lengthy 183-page action plan that looks at the state’s housing crisis, with calls to create additional houses and apartments to be built to address the shortage.

Boston Consulting Group was engaged by the foundation back in February to conduct an analysis of Rhode Island’s housing situation over an eight-week period from February to this month. This analysis, the foundation said, would inform and provide options to the R.I. Department of Housing and be acted upon. Boston Consulting Group looked over various existing housing and homeless reports developed within the state over the last few years, including reports by HousingWorks Rhode Island, R.I. Commerce Corp. and R.I. Housing and Mortgage Finance Corp.

The report also comes as several proposed housing legislation brought forth by House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, D-Warwick, is being discussed within the R.I. General Assembly this session, in addition to the state earmarking $250 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding for housing.

The report – which can be read here – looked at three areas: Housing, homelessness, and the state’s housing ecosystem and department capabilities. According to the report, more than 150,000 households in Rhode Island are cost-burdened, meaning homeowners pay more than 30% of their income for housing. To help close that gap, an additional 24,000 affordable housing units would need to be built. In 2021, the state increased housing supply by only 1,150 units, which, the report says, ranked last in the nation on a per capita basis.

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Also, up to 55,000 smaller units, such as studio apartments, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, are needed to match the growing multifamily demand within the state, per the report. Since 2011, only 800 net multifamily units have been built in Rhode Island.

The report also highlights three reasons for the state’s housing shortage. It says the state’s “restrictive” permitting has “limited production” of new housing units and municipal capacity to support developers and coordinate permitting processes is “limited.” The report also notes the state has not allocated enough funding and underutilized existing federal programs to create more housing. Plus, aging housing stock caused reductions in supply, the report said.

The report suggests mobilizing the business community, creating incentives and implementing sales tax exemptions and tax stabilization agreements should help address the shortage.

Regarding homelessness, Rhode Island has the 17th highest per capita homelessness count, and 32nd per capita unsheltered homelessness count among states, per the report. As of last month, about 380 individuals had been counted in Rhode Island’s homelessness information management system “as being unsheltered in the previous 14 days without resolution in the Homeless Management Information System,” the report says.

The report suggests the state should create additional permanent physical capacity, such as partnering with state-licensed facilities and strengthen the service provider ecosystem – creating a provider-led training institute to recruit workforce – as long-term options to combat homelessness.

Also, the report notes that many potential housing developments “are unable” to get to the construction stage due to “a lack of support throughout the development process.” Plus, the state, according to the report, has a lack of long-term goal-setting, planning and coordination on housing. Municipalities also feel the state should provide more direction, support and technical assistance in addressing housing, the report says.

In a statement, Rhode Island Foundation CEO and President Neil D. Steinberg said the state’s housing department will engage stakeholders further around the facts and options in the study and implement next steps “in a transparent and accountable manner.”

“Now is the time to act,” Steinberg said.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.