Family homelessness in Rhode Island is rising, and is expected to worsen, leaving many feeling hopeless and advocates for the homeless feeling frustrated.

Skyrocketing multi-family home prices, the anticipated end to the eviction moratorium, a lack of affordable housing, and accelerating rental costs are leaving advocates for the homeless, like Caitlin Frumerie, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness, anticipating “tough” times.

“You certainly can hear the fear,” said Russ Partridge, executive director of the WARM Center in Westerly, which provides shelter and meals for the homeless throughout southern Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut. Some “property owners are not renewing leases, selling rental/investment properties.” 

Multi-family house prices in Rhode Island are rising dramatically, increasing by 42 percent since 2019 and nearly 25 percent since last year, comparing median prices for April of each year. The median price for multi-family houses this April was $355,000, compared to $285,000 in 2020, and $250,000 in 2019, according to the Rhode Island Statewide Multiple Listing Service.

“People are recognizing they can make a killing,” Partridge said. “And there’s no place to rent.” Partridge said in the last five days he’s had a half dozen calls from individuals that have “been put on notice they need to leave.”

“We are definitely seeing a spike in family homelessness already and will be made even worse when the moratorium ends,” Frumerie said. “We have data based on who calls our hotline looking for shelter or housing.”

And that housing is difficult to find. Partridge said apartments that might have rented for $1,000 a month six months ago are now costing $1,400, not including utilities. He said he’s advising those who are concerned about accelerating rental costs to stay in place, since there are few units available and when they come on the market, they’re gone within two days.

“Rental prices are rising,” Frumerie said. “There is almost no vacancy, no turnover. It’s really rough.”

Each January, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development conducts an inventory of the homeless in each state. The 2021 results have not yet been released, but officials have said they expect it to continue to rise. In 2020, HUD officials said homelessness had increased for the past four years, and this was before the pandemic.

Partridge has said that HUD’s definition of homelessness is rigid, counting only those who are actually living on the streets. Excluded from the count are those who “couch surf,” moving from house to house, whether relatives or friends, or those living in shelters. In Rhode Island that number was reported as slightly more than 1,100 in 2020. Homeless advocates have said the real number is closer to 4,000, when you include all those without a permanent home. Kids Count has said there are more than 1,500 school aged children who are homeless and registered in the state’s schools.

Rhode Island has been last in New England in the amount of funds it allocates for affordable housing per capita. Rhode Island voters did approve a $65 million housing bond earlier this year. The state also requires municipalities to strive to have at least 10 percent of its housing stock considered affordable. Only about six communities have reached that threshold.

Affordable housing is generally defined as individuals or families not spending more than 30 percent of their gross income on housing costs, including mortgage or rent, and utilities. 

What happens now, Partridge said, simply “remains to be seen.”

(For this story, we also contacted officials at Newport’s McKinney Cooperative Shelter, who declined to comment)