Affordable Housing remains elusive for thousands of Rhode Islanders, according to the 2020 Housing Fact Book, released today by HousingWorks RI (HWRI) at Roger Williams University. It found that more than a third of Rhode Islanders (146,000 households) are “housing cost burdened.”

The wide-ranging report touches primarily on Rhode Islanders ability to afford housing, but also talks about the consequences of overpaying for housing while neglecting other necessities, of homelessness, and of the shortage of internet access for many renters, among several findings.

It uses as a base, a standard called cost burdened, set by the federal government establishing as cost burdened those paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing, including utilities, and as severely cost burdened those spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing.

That means, the report said, that households with incomes of $50,000 or less could afford rent in only three Rhode Island municipalities – Burrillville, Smithfield, and Woonsocket. Households earning the median renter income of $34,255, the report said could not afford to rent the average two-bedroom apartment in any city or town in Rhode Island.

HWRI also found that “based on 2019 median single-family home prices, a household earning the state’s median household income of $63,296 would be able to affordably buy in only” Central Falls.

In Newport, the report said the annual income needed to affordably buy a median priced home in the city is $138,844. Newport is a community of extremes, with huge multi-million mansions and among the state’s most impoverished communities. Here are some of the other HWRI findings for Newport:

  • The median single-family home price in Newport in 2018 is $535,500, which would require a monthly housing payment of $3,471.
  • The median home price increased 19 percent since 2014.
  • The average two-bedroom rental is $1,427, a decrease of 4 percent since 2014.
  • HWRI said there are 3,863 households that are cost-burdened – 28 percent (1,250) owner households, and 45 percent (2,613) rental households.
  • Newport is only one of six Rhode Island communities to meet the state standard of 10 percent affordable housing. Others meeting the minimum are Burrillville, Central Falls, New Shoreham, Providence, and Woonsocket.

Some other significant findings within the report:

  • The state’s per capita investment of $20.45 in 2019 is substantially lower than any other New England state. 
  • Race and ethnicity indicators show Rhode Island’s show Black and Latino homeownership rates at 33 and 29 percent, “far below the national averages of 41 and 45 percent.”
  • It found nearly 2,700 “men, women, and children” seeking shelter in 2019, and 1,475 school children categorized as homeless.
  • Internet access is essential during “shutdowns and quarantines,” allowing “access to healthcare services, distance learning, and social connection.” In 2019, the report said, 22 percent of renter households in the state did not have access to basic internet.