The $65 million bond issue that is on the March 2 special election ballot will have an enormous impact on those who most need help to afford their homes, as well as the economy overall, including Newport County. How do we know? Because of the affect similar bond issues have had. 

The three housing bonds passed by Rhode Islanders created 489 affordable homes in Newport County, 227 of them in the City of Newport.  These have ranged from single family homes to rental properties with 2-9 units to apartment complexes with 10 or more. Through new construction, preservation and rehabilitation, these homes guarantee long-term affordability for families, seniors, people with disabilities and people leaving homelessness. The total of $115 million of bond funds leveraged over $650 million in federal resources and investments from other public and private sources.  Four thousand jobs statewide were supported by the construction activity associated with the creation of these affordable homes.

The bottom line: voter-approved bonds for affordable housing get results.  

But the need for affordable housing continues despite the addition of these bond-funded homes. According to the HousingWorks RI 2020 Fact Book, the average rent for a 2 bedroom apartment in Newport is $1,427, requiring an annual income of $57,080 based on a household spending no more than 30% of its annual income on housing costs. Forty-five percent of renter households in Newport are cost burdened and 28 % of homeowners, spending more than 30% of their income on housing. In fact, based on 2019 average 2 bedroom apartment rents, a household earning the state’s median renter income of $34,255 could not affordably rent in any Rhode Island city or town.  And the State of Rhode Island invests the least amount of funding per capita of the six New England states – $22.90 compared with the highest per capita investment in Massachusetts of $100.98.

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Opportunities exist for Newport County communities to take advantage of the $65 million bond funds. The North End Urban Plan provides for the creation of housing.  Both Middletown and Portsmouth are actively discussing creating housing for seniors and families.  Newport County has an experienced nonprofit housing developer in Church Community Housing Corporation that has the expertise and vision to help municipalities achieve the goal of 10% affordable housing in their respective communities. 

And finally, safe affordable housing is one of the social determinants of health, which the eviction moratorium during the COVID pandemic has highlighted.

Your vote of approval on bond referendum #3 – by mail, in-person at your city or town hall or at a polling place on March 2 – can provide the resources that Newport County needs to meet the affordable housing needs of its residents and provide construction jobs to boost our economy.

~ Judy Jones, Newport