HousingWorks RI at RWU Releases 2023 Housing Fact Book and Rhode Island Zoning Atlas

In the 2023 Housing Fact Book, HousingWorks RI reviews legislative actions to improve housing and increase production.

2023 Housing Fact Book cover

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – HousingWorks RI (HWRI) at Roger Williams University released two bodies of work today – the 2023 Housing Fact Book and the Rhode Island Zoning Atlas – that seek to shed light on the Ocean State’s housing affordability crisis.

The 2023 Housing Fact Book, HWRI’s annual publication of housing trends across the state, its regions and municipalities, is framed by the actions taken during the 2023 legislative session and puts into context the new laws that seek to create healthier homes, strengthen protections for renters and owners, and streamline and increase housing production.   

Actions taken during the legislative session include changes in the lead hazard mitigation law (RIGL 42-128.1), which now includes owner-occupied properties of two and three units, and will now potentially require tens of thousands additional rental homes to be inspected and mitigated. Protections for renters and owners became even more apparent in a post-COVID climate. After eviction filings dropped 51 percent in 2020-2021, with the expiration of eviction prevention programs in 2022, filings are back on the rise and 2023 may see a return to the pre-pandemic number of nearly 7,000 annual filings. The legislature acted to seal records for some evictions, which make it difficult for many renters to find new places to live. Owners, too, saw some relief as legislation eliminated the sunset provision for foreclosure meditation. After a five-year decrease, foreclosures increased 76 percent in 2022. The most ambitious and comprehensive legislative actions taken this year, though, were those affecting municipal planning. As a suite, they are intended to increase housing production statewide. The last of the federal resources made available through the pandemic spending bills are being directed to address these concerns. 

Of the $191M federal funds remaining for FY24 from the $321M allocated to the state’s housing needs from the State Fiscal Recovery Funds—an ARPA program—nearly $112M will go to increasing housing opportunities through development, including $4M to support a new Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) pilot program, community revitalization, preservation, and down payment assistance. More than $72M will be used to develop housing for, and support the needs of, the lowest income Rhode Islanders and those at risk of homelessness. Additionally, $7M will help expand municipal capacity and build public infrastructure. As the $321M of federal funds made available is spent down, it is critical to evaluate programmatic successes and what state-level resources need to be established in order to sustain them for future success. 

Direct state investment of $30M has been appropriated toward a state-funded low-income housing tax credit program. This money will supplement the federal program that constitutes a substantial portion of the state’s new rental development each year. Rhode Island was one of only two New England states to not have such a program. At this time, the program sunsets as of June 30, 2028, unless the General Assembly chooses to extend it.

“In the 2023 Housing Fact Book, we see a number of areas where deployment of federal funds helped to stem the pandemic’s effect on housing insecurities and offered a temporary pause to some of the worst outcomes, but we know we need more healthy, affordable homes for all Rhode Islanders," said Brenda Clement, HWRI’s Executive Director. "In 2019, the Housing Fact Book offered its first look at the residential development ordinances that make a diversity of housing choices possible. We understand that zoning is not the only factor to unlocking more production of housing—substantial reliable and sustainable funding is essential, but we have understood for many years that zoning is a key piece to this puzzle. With so much of Rhode Island’s land zoned primarily for single family homes, we may be underutilizing important commercial and transit corridors as well as town and village centers where additional homes could benefit those who often already live locally. With the actions taken by the state legislature earlier this year, we thought releasing these two projects together will offer a more complete picture of where we are at as a state.” 

This year’s Housing Fact Book regions are updated based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s application of new decennial data from 2020. A look at these regions through the geographies of their most active sales over a five-year time period shows that 46 percent of one single- and two-family sales do not meet selected current zoning standards. Moreover, the median sales price of homes that did not meet zoning standards were on average 11 percent lower than those that did. Using these regions allows us to examine the promise of the new TOD pilot program by identifying areas for potential development along transit corridors even when they cross municipal boundaries or respective zoning allowances. The success of the resulting municipal planning and zoning ordinances will eventually be measured by increases in building permits and diversified types of housing. 

“The Housing Fact Book continuously shows that the median single family home price is out of reach across many municipalities for Rhode Islanders,” said Stephen Antoni, HousingWorks RI at RWU’s Advisory Board Chair. “This year’s publication shows that staggering increases across Rhode Island’s cities and towns have made it so that in order to affordably buy a home across the state, a household needs an income of more than $100,000 in 38 out of 39 municipalities. Rhode Islanders are struggling to afford safe and secure housing, and with limited inventory, a lack of housing diversity, and an older existing housing stock, we are facing many challenges. We must continue to increase funding around production, invest in preservation, and ensure healthy housing options, so that all Rhode Islanders may have a safe, secure, and affordable place to call home.”   

HousingWorks RI, as part of the National Zoning Atlas (NZA) collaborative, is also launching the Rhode Island Zoning Atlas. Rhode Island will be the fourth full statewide zoning atlas in the nation to launch, contributing to the NZA’s mission of digitizing U.S. zoning codes to create a more coherent and democratized understanding of zoning in a housing context. The Rhode Island Zoning Atlas (RIZA) is an important first step in understanding current zoning conditions in the state, with immediate findings suggesting overwhelming reliance on single family zoning—87 percent of the state is zoned for single family by right, while just 8 percent allows for four-or-more family by right. Furthermore, the RI Zoning Atlas will allow a variety of stakeholders access to an easy interface to explore local zoning and consider where we could evolve our land uses to benefit all Rhode Islanders. The full interactive Atlas is available to at https://www.housingworksri.org/learning-center/RIZoningAtlas.

HousingWorks RI released the 2023 Housing Fact Book and Rhode Island Zoning Atlas this morning during a breakfast event at Providence Marriott Downtown. Community partners, industry leaders, and elected officials gathered to listen to a presentation of this year’s key findings and takeaways by Annette Bourne, HousingWorks RI’s Research and Policy Director, and Bryce Kelley, HousingWorks RI’s Senior Research Analyst. Following a report out of the Housing Fact Book, Aline Fader, the National Zoning Atlas’s Project Coordinator for Zoning Codes, provided remarks.

Other key facts from this year’s book include: 

  • More than a third of Rhode Island households (142,470) pay more than 30 percent of their income toward housing costs, making them housing cost burdened.  
  • Black and Hispanic homeowner households suffer the highest rates of housing cost burdens, at 37 percent and 39 percent respectively.  
  • The one municipality a household could affordably purchase a home with an income less than $100,000 is Central Falls.  
  • Renting the average 2-bedroom apartment costs $1,996 according to RIHousing’s 2022 Rental Survey, which would require an income of nearly $80,000 to affordably rent; this exceeds the state’s median renter income by nearly $40,000.  
  • In six out of seven of the state’s regions, nearly three-quarters of households cannot afford their region’s median single family home.  
  • Of the top 20 occupations considered by Rhode Island’s Department of Labor and Training within the “Fastest Growing Occupations, 2020-2030 Projections,” 73 percent (86,778) of these 119,000 jobs do not pay the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s 2023 housing wage for Rhode Island of $27.78/hour.  
  • Despite an overall decrease in calls to United Way of Rhode Island’s 211 call center, the ratio of those calls seeking housing assistance returned to the pre-pandemic ratio of more than 50 percent of the 160,936 calls.   

The 2023 Housing Fact Book can be viewed at www.housingworksri.org