Report: Affordable housing continues to be out of reach for many

PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island may have seen economic gains in 2019, but 2020 revealed the stark disparities in housing and economic security for safe and affordable housing, reports the 2020 Housing Fact Book by HousingWorks RI at Roger Williams University.

Almost 40% of all Rhode Islanders are housing cost burdened, meaning the household spends more than 30% of their annual income on housing costs, according to the report that was released Friday.

The Fact Book’s findings are based on data prior to the pandemic in 2019, but current mid-year data was added to provide some insight into employment and economic challenges in Rhode Island this year. Each year, the report illustrates just how many Rhode Islanders are housing cost-burdened each year, a figure that has grown increasingly worse overtime.

Indicators of race and ethnicity were new to the Fact Book this year, and displayed how Black and Latino homeownership rates, at 33% and 29% respectively, in Rhode Island were far below the national averages of 41% and 45%. Black and Latino homeowners also experienced the highest rate of owner cost burden, at 43% and 41%, compared to Whites’ at 28%, according to HousingWorks RI’s findings.

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“Year after year, the Housing Fact Book continues to show us housing that is affordable remains out of reach for many Rhode Islanders with the rate of housing cost burden persisting,” said Stephen Antoni, HousingWorks RI advisory board chair. “As Rhode Island strives to become an inclusive state, we must have state investment in housing, establish and practice good policy, and produce and preserve an affordable housing supply that will provide opportunity for all Rhode Islanders.”

THE RATE of renters' cost burdens and severe cost burdens increased across all incomes and races, including 81% of the lowest-income renters, who earn $12,765 or less each year, and 60% of these same households are paying more than 50% of their income for housing costs. / COURTESY HOUSINGWORKS RI
THE RATE of renters’ cost burdened and severe cost burdened increased across all incomes and races, including 81% of the lowest-income renters, who earn $12,765 or less each year, and 60% of these same households are paying more than 50% of their income for housing costs. / COURTESY HOUSINGWORKS RI

The rate of renters’ cost burdened and severely cost burdened increased across all incomes and races.

More than 80% of the lowest-income renters, who earn $12,765 or less each year were housing costs burdened. Severely cost burdened, where households are paying more than 50% of their income on housing costs, made up 60% of lowest-income renters.

Among households with a mortgage, 90% of households that earn $52,828 or less annually spent 30% of their income on housing costs and and 54% spent more than half, based on 2019 data.

As COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of having safe and affordable housing to eliminate congregations and bee able to quarantine, if needed; nearly 2,700 men, women and children were seeking out shelter in 2019.

Blacks accounted for 23.3% of the homeless population compared to making up only 6.5% of the Ocean State’s total population. Latinos represented more than 20% of the homeless population, but only account for a little more than 15% of Rhode Island’s population.

According to Brenda Clement, the director of HousingWorks RI, housing instability and homelessness should remain a top priority for the state, especially with the pandemic.

“With the state’s per capita investment–at $20.45 in 2019–the lowest per capita state investment in New England by half, and with only 187 long-term affordable homes produced in 2019, Rhode Island must act now and incorporate a line item in the state’s budget to prioritize housing for its residents,” said Clement. “The data continuously shows the negative impacts housing instability and homelessness can have on development and overall well-being, and Rhode Islanders need action.”

ONLY 6% of all units of those built prior to 1979 are certified as "Lead Safe" by a R.I. Department of Health or Housing Resources Commission inspection and mitigation process. / COURTESY HOUSINGWORKS RI
ONLY 6% of all units of those built prior to 1979 are certified as “Lead Safe” by a R.I. Department of Health or Housing Resources Commission inspection and mitigation process. / COURTESY HOUSINGWORKS RI

With the expansion of adding indicators through a lens of social determinants of health on housing, the Fact Book reported that nearly 75%, or 302,501 units, of Rhode Island’s housing stock was built prior to 1979, which could impact lead exposure, air quality and “weatherization,” and overcrowding. Only 6% of all units of those built prior to 1979 are certified as “Lead Safe” by a R.I. Department of Health or Housing Resources Commission inspection and mitigation process.

Clement and Antoni made strategy suggestions from a Homes RI campaign to the state to help close the gap on Rhode Island’s substantial housing needs. These suggestions included; construction and preservation of safe, healthy and affordable homes; rental subsidies for low and very low-income households; necessary services for people placed in permanent housing to support their health and wellbeing; and the removal of legal, administrative, regulatory and economic barriers to quality housing.

Alexa Gagosz is a PBN staff writer. Contact her at Gagosz@PBN.com. You may also follow her on Twitter at @AlexaGagosz.

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