NARRAGANSETT—In 2004, Rhode Island established the Low and Moderate Income Housing Act, legislation aimed at increasing the amount of affordable housing units by creating a 10 percent threshold that municipalities had to ideally meet, or submit a plan for achieving that number in the future. In Narragansett, 462 affordable housing units would need to be built to meet the 10 percent figure, and in South Kingstown, 390, according to HousingWorksRI.
Providing affordable housing for local residents continues to be a challenge for state and local governments, and as the economy remains further in recession, demand grows. The availability of affordable housing affects a number of aspects within a community’s physical and social fabric, from the quality of schools to resident morale.
Accessibility to rental units is also a function of how successful affordable housing is in a community. In Rhode Island, according to HousingWorksRI, 40 percent of residents are renters, 27 percent of which spend more than 50 percent of their incomes on housing expenses. A recent study by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Out of Reach 2012, has ranked Rhode Island 17 among U.S. states in affordability of a two-bedroom rental unit.
“Affordable housing really is a platform for positive outcomes in other areas and helps to predict one’s health, educational outcomes, and other aspects of life,” said Nellie Gorbea, Executive Director of HousingWorksRI. “If you have a family having to move because they can’t afford to rent, for example, a child is being pulled out of school which creates costs for school districts.”
“Once that family dedicates money to housing, they have very little for anything else,” she added. “Some people pay their housing costs and then go to the food pantry at the end of the month. Having affordable housing is thus really important for not just one’s quality of life, but what happens in that community as well.”
Furthermore, the Out of Reach 2012 study has determined that the average household must earn $36,974 annually to afford a two-bedroom apartment. Assuming a 40-hour work week and 52-week work year, an individual would have to earn $17.78 per hour in order to afford the apartment comfortably. The current wage average in Rhode Island is $11.64.
Gorbea stresses that municipalities and the state must work together in order to make buying or renting affordably an achievable goal for families in Rhode Island.
“Municipalities need to put together a plan in how they are going to address the issue,” said Gorbea. “We need to take a proactive approach in order to see affordable housing as an investment in these communities and make it easier to build.”
“If you look at how affordable housing is being built throughout the state, we’ve learned a lot on how to do it right.”
Although Rhode Island has made progress, Gorbea also sees the need for more to be done when many communities across the state have yet to meet their 10 percent affordable housing targets. The uncertainty of funding is a constant presence, says Gorbea, looming above the state’s efforts.
“The state passed the Building Homes Rhode Island bond in 2006, which in that program to date, we’ve built about 1255 houses in 30 communities,” said Gorbea. “We need those funds to help communities build affordable housing. It is not reasonable to tell people to build and not support them.”
“We need the state, lawmakers, and the Governor, to come up with a state housing policy that includes dedicated funding streams so we know that every fiscal year, there are X number of dollars for affordable housing,” she added. “Every year, it is another battle and we don’t know how much funding will be in the budget. It is highly chaotic and hard to pull off development in communities that way.”
The faces of the affordable housing crisis, from single parents to struggling post graduates to aging veterans, are numerous. The more that can be done at every level of government, as well as supporting awareness about the problem, the more easily Rhode Island will transition into a more stable economy, providing positive outlooks for its residents.