(Note: Over the last few weeks WhatsUpNewp has been exploring affordable housing issues. Last Friday, HousingWorksRI released its annual Fact Book, providing a detailed look at how the state and its municipalities are addressing affordable housing issues. To view our stories and podcast in this series, visit Affordable Housing. Meanwhile, we’ll be continuing our affordable housing series in the upcoming weeks.)

Businesses and communities benefit when there’s adequate affordable housing for moderate- and low-income individuals and families, a message that affordable housing advocates believe will begin to get those who typically have ignored the issue, to begin taking it seriously.

“A policy window is opening,” said Dr. Tiffany Pastor, a housing advocate, speaking at the HousingWorksRI luncheon at which the organization unveiled its 2018 Housing Fact Book. “Nationally we have a moment. How do I make them care? Why it’s important. Why it makes us better.”

Her premise is to equate affordable housing with economic development.

It’s an approach that is well documented on various websites that not only show the jobs created by construction but the number of employees that would be served by an increase in affordable housing.

Pastor’s comments came on the day that HousingWorksRI unveiled findings that only reinforced Pastor’s characterization of the “severity of the housing crisis.”

According to HousingWorksRI households at or below the state’s median household income of $58,387 could only afford to buy single-family homes in two (Central Falls and Providence) of Rhode Island’s 39 municipalities.

Only six municipalities (up from five last year) have reached the mandated 10 percent of affordable housing, legislation that was adopted nearly three decades ago. Burrillville became the sixth community reaching the threshold, joining Central Falls, Newport, New Shoreham (Block Island), Providence, and Woonsocket.

The state law requires municipalities to “ensure a minimal number (10 percent) of quality, affordable homes are available to low- and moderate-income Rhode Islanders for a minimum of 30 years,” according to HousingWorksRI.

The lack of affordable housing is reflected upon the number of Rhode Islanders struggling to meet mortgage payments or rent.

“The continuous climb in the cost of housing and lack of new homes has left more than 145,000 Rhode Island households, or 35 percent of all households, cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs,” according to the Fact Book. Some 44 percent of the 145,000 households that are cost burdened are considered “severely cost burdened,” spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing costs.

Some other of HousingWorks key findings:

  • Nearly 90 percent of lowest income owner households with a mortgage spend 30 percent or more of their income on housing. More than 50,000 Rhode Island households are cost burdened.
  • In 2017, Rhode Island households earning $30,000 or less could not afford to rent an average two-bedroom apartment in any municipality in Rhode Island.
  • In only four municipalities – Central Falls, Burrillville, Woonsocket, and Pawtucket – could Rhode Islanders households earning $50,000 or less rent an average two-bedroom apartment.
  • More than 4,500 Rhode Islanders spent at least one night in a shelter or transitional program in 2017, a seven percent increase over 2016. Rhode Island’s public schools reported 1,245 homeless children/youth, an increase of 18.7 percent from the previous year.
  • Rhode Island invested $5.21 per capita in affordable homes in the fiscal year 2017, down nearly 46 percent from the fiscal year 2015. The Rhode Island investment compares to Massachusetts’ investment of $100.12 per capita in fiscal 2017 and in Connecticut an investment of $85.70 per capita in fiscal 2017.

Pastor emphasized the importance of federal, state, and municipalities of addressing affordable housing issues as a way of fueling the economy, good for businesses and communities. Here’s what some others say:

  • A National Law Review article in 2015 said that “affordable housing provides far more than a social or physical benefit to those fortunate enough to live in safe, clean and affordable housing.” It goes on to tout job creation because of building affordable housing, from architects to contractors. And it notes that by providing affordable housing, it allows those who live in the houses or apartments, with the income they can spend on other items, from food and healthcare to savings for a college education. “Persons who live in affordable housing,” the article said, “tend to be more stable, long-term employees because they don’t need to move so often and face difficulties of coming to work regularly.”
  • “When families can remain in your community, they become part of the social fabric and advance the common good. Reasonably priced housing creates stability, community, and engagement.” – United Way of San Diego County.
  • The San Diego United Way said affordable housing is good for the environment, allowing county, teachers, police officers, nurses, and other workers live near their workplaces, “dramatically cutting energy use and pollution.” Affordable housing promotes economic and social diversity,” creating “a vibrant diverse group of residents.”

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