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While legislators ponder several bills aimed at easing the state’s housing crisis, the state agencies dealing with the homeless and most marginalized populations are seeing a “huge spike” in housing needs.

“There’s been a massive increase in the last 18 months,” said Russ Partridge, executive director of Westerly’s Warm Center and Wakefield’s Welcome House. Statewide, he said, requests for housing assistance is up by as much as 50 percent.

Newport’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center has also experienced a sharp increase in requests for housing assistance, said Heather Strout, the MLK Center’s Executive Director. “Rents have increased dramatically,” she said.

“I recently saw one couple who purchased a home last summer and are already being foreclosed on,” she said. “It is a sad situation.”

A tight housing market, increasing interest rates (feds just raised rates another quarter percent this afternoon), and soaring rental costs are all adding to the national housing crisis. 

Len Lardaro, a University of Rhode Island economist, said new home construction in Rhode Island has been declining for some time.

He suggests that if Rhode Island is not yet in a recession, it likely will be soon. His latest Consumer Conditions Index has shown a steady decline in the last few months of 2022 and a dramatic drop in January.

The race to increase the number of affordable housing units in Rhode Island has been going on for years. State law mandates that affordable housing should make up at least 10 percent of housing stock in any community. Only seven of the state’s cities and towns have reached that level.

Patridge said all homeless shelters statewide are full, and in only a few weeks one option to provide temporary housing may disappear. That’s the use of motel and hotel space at facilities that will begin preparing for the tourist season. The typical deadline for motel housing is April 1. 

Nationally, the housing forecast is dim. An article in Forbes Magazine said experts suggest that “high-interest rates coupled with appreciated home values still make it difficult for many prospective buyers to access affordable housing…housing experts maintain a watchful eye on the economy, which continues to be pulled in all directions by high inflation, steep interest rates, ongoing geopolitical uncertainties and recession fears,” the magazine said.

Meanwhile, two weeks ago, Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives Joseph Shekarchi unveiled a package of 11 proposed bills that he said are the result of the work of the Special Legislative Commission to Study the Rhode Island Low- and Moderate-Income Housing Act.

Among the bills in the package are provisions: 

  • Aimed at repurposing vacant and unused schools and other municipal buildings for an affordable housing program administered by Rhode Island Housing.
  • Include mobile and manufactured homes in the calculation of the total low- and moderate-income housing in each city and town.
  • Revise the definition of an accessory dwelling unit, removing the requirement that “those units be occupied by someone related by family to the principal residence.” 
  • Let property owners add accessory apartments within their homes or existing garages “by right,” or without having to get special approval from their municipality.
  • Let property owners on half-acre lots create accessory apartments outside the footprint of existing structures by right.
  • Prohibit landlords, real estate brokers or anyone else from charging fees to prospective tenants to apply for apartments.
  • Give developers a “density bonus” letting them build 30 percent more housing per acre if they include income-restricted units.

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