2019 Housing Fact Book Shows Rhode Islanders Struggle with Housing Costs

HousingWorks RI at Roger Williams University releases annual research report that analyzes Rhode Island housing trends

By Public Affairs
2019 Housing Fact Book cover

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The 2019 Housing Fact Book released today by HousingWorks RI (HWRI) at Roger Williams University reveals that rising home prices and rents remain a struggle for the average Rhode Island household.

Buyers with incomes under $50,000 can no longer expect to find homes they can afford in any Rhode Island municipality. Higher income levels have also been affected, with homebuyers with incomes of $70,000 being reduced to four municipalities where they are likely to find a home they can afford – a decrease from seven municipalities in 2017. Even those households with incomes of $100,000 have six fewer communities to choose from.

Similarly, renters find themselves with fewer options. In 2018, Rhode Island households earning $50,000 or less could affordably rent in only three municipalities – Burrillville, Smithfield, and Woonsocket – and households earning the state median renter income of $32,361 could not affordably rent the average two-bedroom apartment in any Rhode Island city or town.

In Rhode Island, more than 140,000 households – or 35 percent – are considered housing cost-burdened, spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing. When Rhode Islanders’ incomes and housing costs are out of alignment, there is a chain reaction. The total estimated dollar value of the housing cost burden across the state’s households is nearly three-quarters of a billion dollars. Homeowners with mortgages are paying an average of nearly $7,000 above the threshold; for renters, that figure is just over $5,000.

“The amount of money that is collectively being overspent, which is $733,107,777, on housing costs in Rhode Island, is astronomical,” said Brenda Clement, Director of HousingWorks RI. “This money, which could otherwise be spent supporting local businesses, going towards education, or put into savings, is instead, burdening Rhode Islanders. It is now more critical than ever for the state to establish dedicated long-term funding to the development and preservation of affordable homes, so that every Rhode Islander has a safe, healthy, and affordable place to call home.”

Affordability becomes even more of a challenge when production is low. Over the past fifteen years, there has been a net gain of 2,212 long-term affordable homes–an annual average of 147 long-term affordable homes per year. In 2018, there were only 166 long-term affordable homes produced, a 22 percent decrease from the previous year.

This year’s Housing Fact Book further explores the ties between housing and transportation in relation to the state’s regional affordability. The Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT) refers to the combination of these costs as the “affordability of place.” CNT’s premise is that the combined costs of housing and transportation should consume no more than 45 percent of a household budget.

Given the prevalence of cost burdened and severely cost burdened households across the Ocean State, it is nearly impossible for many Rhode Island households to achieve that cost ratio.

“Across the United States, more and more municipalities are recognizing the value in thinking strategically about planning housing and transit near jobs,” said Stephen Antoni, HousingWorks RI Advisory Board Chair and former President of the Rhode Island Association of Realtors. “We in Rhode Island cannot afford to overlook these connections to our state and local economies. With the state currently involved in strategic planning for both housing and transit, the time is now to cement these connections in order to ensure that accessibility is a reality for all Rhode Islanders.”

HousingWorks RI released the 2019 Housing Fact Book at their annual luncheon, which included a morning session. During the morning program, partners gathered to listen to a presentation of this year’s key findings, followed by a panel of local housing and transportation experts.

At the luncheon, community partners, industry leaders and elected officials were on hand to hear Daniel McCue, Senior Research Associate at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, speak about the state of the nation’s housing, and how research and data are critical components to driving the message of housing affordability forward.