There is a housing crisis in Rhode Island. More than 35% of households in our state spend upwards of 30% of their income on housing, leaving too little money for food, clothing, transportation and other essential needs, and no money for savings for their children’s future. Among households that are renters, the number rises to 49 percent. It takes an income of $66,040 to afford the average two-bedroom apartment here, but our median renter household income is $34,255.
In short, our housing supply is simply unaffordable for our population.
Too many Rhode Island families do not have safe, warm, comfortable places to live. Too many children change schools multiple times a year as their families search for housing that they can afford. Too much housing is abandoned. Too few single-family homes and too few rental units are built.
There are many problems with the housing market: zoning laws that constrain the construction of multi-family dwellings, insufficient incentives to build affordable units, and anemic and unpredictable government programs to help low-income Rhode Islanders pay their bills. Wages haven’t kept pace with cost of living, which means that even if you’re housed, you’re likely to be paying too much for where you live.
We need comprehensive housing policies at the federal and state levels that address both the supply of housing and the ability of low-income families to afford units produced.
We need to build more housing at all price ranges. We need to offer rental relief. We need to help working-class Rhode Islanders buy that starter home. An increase in the minimum wage will certainly help, as will zoning changes to encourage the construction of housing that is affordable for minimum-wage workers and their families.
We also need a dedicated, consistent funding stream in our state budget that provides builders and developers with the confidence they need to plan low- and moderate-income developments, and gives renters and first-time home buyers annual, predictable support that is not dependent on the vagaries of the state budget process.
We are proud to sponsor S 0365 and H 5687, which start to address this problem. Our bill creates, for the first time, a dedicated, consistent stream of funding to support affordable housing in Rhode Island. It adds a small additional tax on high-end real estate transactions, and dedicates the money collected from that tax to a) support renters who are struggling, and b) build new housing for low-and moderate-income Rhode Islanders.
The pandemic has made the housing market even tighter, as neighbors from other states buy homes in Rhode Island. This increase in the real estate conveyance tax, dedicated as it is to increasing the supply and affordability of housing in Rhode Island, increases the opportunity for all Rhode Islanders to have access to safe, clean, comfortable homes for themselves and their families. It is a badly-needed investment in people who have suffered disproportionately from the pandemic. It makes our communities more stable, healthy, vibrant and diverse.
And this benefits us all.
Meghan Kallman is the State Senator for RI District 15, Pawtucket and North Providence. June Speakman is the State Representative for RI District 68, Bristol and Warren.