News & Event
The inability of people – especially young people starting out in their careers with less than median salaries and high college debt – to afford a place to live can deprive a region of its economic lifeblood.
Barbara Fields, the subject of this week’s cover story Q&A, knows this reality intimately. She is the executive director of the R.I. Housing and Mortgage Finance Corp., known to most everyone as R.I. Housing.
While the issue of affordable housing is a complex one, Ms. Fields has a pretty simple answer: Build, build, build.
Data from a 2016 study by HousingWorks RI at Roger Williams University supports that solution. From 2008-2012, 40.1 percent of all Rhode Island households were considered cost burdened, that is they spent more than 30 percent of their annual gross income on rent/mortgage, insurance, taxes and utilities. That total represented an increase of 44.4 percent from the number of cost-burdened households in 2000.
The 2017 Housing Fact Book from HousingWorks makes the point a different way. Households earning the state’s median income of $56,852 in 2016 could afford the median-priced single-family home in only four of Rhode Island’s municipalities.
Recent news about the rising prices of homes in the Ocean State makes it unlikely that trend is retreating.
If the state’s leaders are serious about creating an environment for future economic growth, they should put affordable housing on the short list of important issues to tackle. Because if they don’t, Rhode Island may find fewer talented people wanting to come here to work and live.
Courtesy of Providence Business News
By Mary MacDonald | April 27, 2018 6:30 am
R.I. Housing and Mortgage Finance Corp. is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year in a position of financial strength, says Executive Director Barbara Fields.
It has created programs to assist first-time homeowners, expanded its servicing of mortgages to include those generated by MaineHousing and emerged from the Great Recession with a surplus of financial assets.
But it is working against a backdrop of unaffordability. Half of all renters and 30 percent of homeowners in Rhode Island are housing-cost burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their take-home income on rent and utilities.
Fields has been executive director of the quasi-public agency since January 2015. She previously was the New England regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the director of the Local Initiatives Support Corp. in Providence.
What’s the best way for Rhode Island to increase access to affordable housing?
“Build, build, build,” she said.
How has the mission of R.I. Housing changed over the past 45 years? R.I. Housing was established by the General Assembly in 1973 as a public corporation of the state. We have an independent existence from the state, although they exercise a central control over our board. Our primary purpose was to encourage investment of private funds for the development of housing for low- and moderate-income persons, and to function as a source of capital for affordable-housing development. We were basically set up to be the state’s housing bank at a time when many other states were doing this. Today, there are 53 housing finance agencies [nationally].
Within Rhode Island, what is your share of home loan origination? Last year, we did 13 percent of the mortgages in the state. Origination … is only 15 percent of our business. Eighty-five percent of our business comes from working with 40 brokers and lenders and we consider them, obviously, critical and important partners. The No. 1 is [Coastway Community Bank]. They help bring us business. Housing is economic development. We help support local businesses. … Also, we were set up to bring private money in to help people get into home ownership. We go to Wall Street and float taxable and tax-exempt bonds, both for single-family and multifamily.
Since the [Great Recession], what has changed in our business is we also sell in the secondary market. We get a warehouse line of credit. We work with three or four banks. We purchase the mortgages and when we get enough, we bundle them and we sell them in the secondary market as securitized mortgages.
What’s the benefit of doing that? The interest rates have been extremely low. There are key Rhode Island officials … who got their first mortgages at RIHousing. [Former Auditor General] Ernie Almonte in 1982 or 1983 bought [his] first house. The rates were 15-16 percent and we could get you 12 [percent]. We forget. In a video on our website he stands in front of his first house. That speaks to what our major focus and mission is. People who are early in their career, buying a home and setting roots in the community. Last year was a banner year. We did almost 1,800 mortgages. The average age of someone who got a mortgage through RIHousing last year was 37.
Is there any focus this year for the organization? Rental apartments for working families, working individuals and a lot more seniors. We have a growing senior population. … [Recently], we got the first-ever Capital Magnet Fund. We got one of the largest in the country. It’s from the U.S. Department of Treasury. It’s $4.7 million and it will help us on a key focus. … We run a lot of federal programs on behalf of the state. One of them is the federal low-income housing tax credit. … There are two sets of credits. One is a deeper subsidy, called the 9 percent. It’s highly competitive. We’re doing as much as we possibly can with what we get. The other, which is a shallower subsidy [of 4 percent] that has to be used with our first mortgage, that is limited by the state’s bond capacity. We are not tapped out, and we would love to do more of those deals. And produce more rental housing and preserve housing that exists. [With] that Capital Magnet, we’ll be able to fill that hole, between the 4 percent and the 9 percent.
What is the profile of your mortgage borrower? The average household income for the homeowners we served last year was … about $66,000 to $67,000. That’s teachers who may be in for a few years, certified accountants, nursing assistants, construction workers. This is the heart and soul of what makes up our middle class. And the average sale price was just under $200,000. And I’m proud of the fact that 27 percent of our mortgages are reaching the minority community. We’re seeing rising prices, so some of that rise is good, it means our economy is getting better. … One of the challenges is … just having more housing built in the state.
You’ve touched on the lack of inventory in single-family homes. What is the solution? How do we get more inventory? Build, build, build.
How? There are different pieces. Some of them we’re beginning to explore: if there are zoning challenges and communities that aren’t interested. Personally, I’ve been going around the state for the past year. I’ve been in Barrington, Middletown, Cumberland, talking to mayors, city councilors and town councils. I would have to say, by and large, they are welcoming. Everyone at this point has a story to tell. It’s either my son won’t leave the house, [or] soon it will be my mother won’t leave the house. Or my sister-in-law’s godchild and her fiancé are looking for a house, and they can’t find it. Seniors are staying longer in their homes. They’re living longer and are in better health. That’s not freeing [housing] up.
If there is an understanding of what the issue is, why aren’t more towns creating zoning to allow more density? I think South Kingstown just did some [rezoning] along Route 1. As I say to the communities, think about your community. I’ve been out with two mayors now, I’m about to go with a third, [and I say] drive me around your city, your town, and tell me, where do you want development? Because it is likely to come, and wouldn’t you want to proactively direct it to those places? In South Kingstown, they started talking about some properties that they knew.
There is always going to be some NIMBY-ism [or “not in my backyard”], but we have not had that raised as a major issue. We’re now funding our second project in Barrington. … We have done one now in Shannock Village, in Charlestown. These are apartments for families, most earning between $30,000 and $50,000 a year. Anyone can apply. But mostly you get people from your community. When we run the numbers in these communities, usually you find 20 percent of current residents would be eligible. … The most important thing to understand is there isn’t one type of housing that we advocate for. We have high-rise buildings. We have single-family homes being built. We have duplexes. We have ground-floor retail and townhouses.
So, people may have a visual that pops into their head when they think of affordable housing. They don’t want it developed in their community because they think it’s going to be ugly? We’re smarter about how to build [today]. We think about housing as part of the community, and community is the economic life of the state. I’m a community-development person coming into housing, so I am always thinking about the connection. We always look when we are financing multifamily rental, where are the parks, where’s the bus line, where do you shop for groceries? What is it that makes a community?
People still assume millennials are living in the basement with their parents. But they’re out there buying now, they are the starter-home market. You have a variety of mortgage programs, including down-payment assistance. But they’re running into an inventory problem. Are the state’s demographics part of the problem? It’s a variety of factors. You have millennials who are now ready to buy. You have a tremendous change in the economy. We went from the second-worst unemployment rate in the country to one of the lowest. We did a 10-year study. Even if the population grows slowly, we projected it would grow at 5 percent [over 10 years]. Households will grow at 12-13 percent. People are waiting longer to marry. You have a lot of singles, or two people in a house without a child until later. So, people need more houses. People are divorcing. You have more households being created by all of these factors. Especially if you go back and see what was going on 30 years ago. The average size in public housing is smaller. Occasionally we will see a proposal come in with a four-bedroom unit or a five-bedroom unit. But we are building one, two and three [bedrooms].
There is some pushback in Providence that the new housing being constructed is primarily downtown housing not designed to accommodate families, who also need housing. Does Rhode Island need more small apartments? A healthy rental market has about a 6.5-7.5 percent rental vacancy rate, so you have turnover, you have empty units for people to come and look at. The nation is below that. Rhode Island dropped last year … to under 4 percent. And Providence is lower than the state. Providence is about 2 percent. So, we need rental apartments, as well as owner-occupied apartments. We’re in a niche, but it’s needed across the income ranges. Part of what’s increased the demand here also is people coming from the Boston area. This is an attractive place to live.
In Massachusetts, a state law called 40B seems to have more strength in getting affordable housing built in individual towns. (The law allows developers to bypass local zoning in towns or cities that have less than 10 percent of the housing stock available at affordable prices.) What is the challenge for Rhode Island’s affordable-housing requirement? FortyB has a lot more teeth. I would say, yes, we have a 10 percent law. … A [state] commission is looking at how to make it stronger.
Do you think it needs to be made stronger, to distribute affordable housing? Yes, I believe so. When you sit down and talk to a community about who would live in the housing you’re talking about, it becomes a very different story. Up here, it’s like numbers, ideas and images. Down here, it’s “Oh, it’s my best friend. It’s my brother-in-law.”
There are many Rhode Islanders who earn less than the state median, as well. I don’t care what your job is. No one makes in their first five years what they might later. We want to accommodate that. I’m sure Ernie Almonte’s salary is different today than it was 25 years ago, when we helped him buy his first house. But that was a good investment to make. It wasn’t a giveaway.
Some activist groups have recommended rent control in Providence, to dampen price escalation. Is rent control an option? My preference is to build. Supply is the approach now being done in Boston. If we can increase the supply, it helps to moderate the prices. We are also involved in several efforts to make sure we maintain the affordable units that we have, that work for people at the lowest income levels. We are very committed to preservation, whether it’s senior units or family housing. We need to preserve what we have. A lot of the housing we’re preserving is 30 years old.
Some community advocates in Providence think city incentives via tax-stabilization agreements should not be used on luxury housing. The Fane Organization tower could be the next argument over this. Should public incentives be used for luxury product? I would just say the TSA process needs to be predictable. No matter what program we run, people want predictability. In Providence, TSAs are needed so we have predictability. If you meet these requirements, you can come in.
Sen. Howard Metts, D-Providence, has raised the issue of discrimination against Section 8 tenants, that the people who hold the vouchers are having trouble finding apartments. He has proposed a law that would prevent landlords from using the source of income as a reason to block a lease. Is this an issue? Absolutely. Thirteen states have that law, including four New England states. We’re supportive of [his proposal].
Gov. Gina M. Raimondo has proposed a transfer to the state of $5 million from R.I. Housing in fiscal 2019. Can the state “scoop” your funds? The board will have to vote on it. We’re going to minimize the impact. It will have an impact, obviously, but we’re going to minimize it. This came up in January. We know the budget will be made by the end of June.
Why did you agree to do it? The governor controls the board and we’re part of the team. Someone talked to the chairman. It’s not an optimal situation. But we’re going to minimize it. We get rated by the bond-rating agencies and we’re talking with them. They will take a look at our rating. But we happen to be in a strong position.
According to your most recent annual audit, your loan-loss contribution fell dramatically in fiscal 2017. What is the story behind that? The market is doing better. People are doing better. We had tremendous losses during the recession, now we’re on a different path. We hope it continues.
The same audit indicated that the three-month delinquencies on R.I. Housing mortgages rose between 2016 and 2017. What is the reason for that? We had a slight uptick, but we are on top of it. We are below nationwide and below New England. We have new metrics we’re following and are working with our 40 brokers and lenders. We look at people’s credit scores and we look at their ratios. We meet, we want [the Federal Housing Administration] to purchase our mortgages, FHA and Fannie Mae. We have some flexibility. We instituted a credit score to raise it a little, to make sure we’re in line with the rest of the New England states.
Some people think homeownership shouldn’t necessarily be identified as a dream for everyone. That maybe we shouldn’t be encouraging homeownership. Do you have any thoughts on that? We should always have a range of housing options. … There are people who need a homeownership opportunity, they’ve saved for years. It may be a single-family, a townhouse, a condominium. We need rental opportunities. Seniors who owned a home who need a rental opportunity. Supportive opportunities, say veterans, where there are services on-site for them. And we also work on properties where we have the vouchers. Every community needs to think, at different points in people’s lives … there are different reasons why people choose types of housing.
On any given day, more than a thousand Rhode Islanders are living on the streets – in cars, in bus or train stations, in shelters, or sleeping on the floor at the home or apartment of a relative or friend. On any given day, thousands of Rhode Islanders are clinging to civility, living in housing they can’t afford, foregoing food, medicines or healthcare insurance.
This is the picture of homelessness and the lack of affordable housing in Rhode Island, a picture painted by executives from Kids Count to homeless coalitions to agencies dedicated to providing aid to underserved Rhode Islanders.
These are issues that are also largely ignored by local and state governments because, as many acknowledge, the victims of homelessness and lack of affordable housing, are not your most prolific voters.
WhatsUpNewp has been rolling out a series of stories focusing on both the homeless and on affordable housing, hopeful to raise awareness and instill a sense of urgency throughout government. This is the second of our stories.
In our first story we focused on the affordable housing law that was passed in Rhode Island nearly three decades ago, and the fact that only five of Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns had achieved the 10 percent threshold mandated by the law.
A House of Representatives subcommittee, formed in 2016 to explore why so few communities had met the requirement, reported back this year, with perhaps its chief recommendation to extend the commission another year.
Key among its recommendations to date: “rethink what it means to meet the requirements of minimum housing”; and measure the impact that affordable housing has on communities, and the correlation between affordable housing and public health. The commission said it met eight times in two years.
A 2016 study by Housing Works for Rhode Island Housing said the state needs to add 30,000 housing units over the next nine years to meet projected needs.
“This is a very complex and nuanced issue,” said Commission Vice Chairman, Rep. Michael Morin, D-Woonsocket, in a commission press release issued a few months ago.
But there are those who fail to see the complexities, instead of seeing it as a law that’s unenforceable.
“There’s no teeth to the regulation, no penalty, no incentive,” said Stephanie Geller, senior policy analyst at RI Kids Count. “The problem is not getting better, it’s getting worse.”
In towns throughout Rhode Island “people think affordable housing will lower property values,” she said.
But Geller and others like the Johnny Cake Center’s Lee Eastborne and the Warm Center’s Russ Partridge are quick to note the cost of not having enough affordable housing is more severe illnesses, food related issues, poor school attendance and outcomes that come from families having to choose whether to pay the rent or mortgage, put enough food on the table, buy health care insurance, or buy prescription medications that could forestall more severe illnesses.
Housing Works defines affordable housing as living in housing in which you pay no more than 30 percent of your gross income on rent or mortgage payments, which meets the percentage federal guideline for “affordability.” Kids Count said some families pay as much as 60 percent of gross income for housing.
According to the Kids Count latest Fact Book, very low-income families are paying well above the 30 percent threshold in every city and town in the state. Even in Central Falls, perhaps the lowest income city in the state, low income and poverty level families are paying nearly 40 percent of their gross incomes for housing. And, in Newport, one of the five towns meeting the affordable living threshold, very low-income families pay half their monthly income for housing.
According to the Rhode Island Housing and Community Development’s 2014 report on low- and moderate-income housing by community, the latest available on line, five communities have met the minimum threshold: Central Falls, 11.83 percent; New Shoreham (Block Island), 10.63 percent; Newport, 17.13 percent; Providence, 14.79 percent; and Woonsocket, 15.89 percent. Newport, Woonsocket, Central Falls, and Providence are among 10 communities identified as communities with substantial public housing.
Statewide 8.3 percent of 445,902 housing units statewide meet the minimum. The number does not include seasonal housing.
Not surprisingly, towns with large lot size requirements have the least percentage of affordable housing. Many, like Little Compton with 0.56 percent affordable housing and two-acre minimum lots, and West Greenwich with 1.41 percent affordable housing and one acre lots, require minimum house lots of an acre or more.
Meanwhile, there are those who simply cannot afford any housing and are counted among the state’s homeless.
According to Kids Count there are 1,245 children in public schools that have been identified as homeless by the schools. Geller said the standard used by schools is the McKinney-Veto Definition of Homeless as provided by the National Center for Homeless Education.
“The term homeless children and youth,” McVinney-Vento said, “means individuals who lack a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence,” including children and youth living temporarily in homes with other persons due to a loss of housing; children and youth who are living in motels, hotels, trailer parks, or camping grounds “due to the lack of alternative adequate accommodations”; living in emergency or transitional shelters; or who are abandoned in hospitals.
It goes on to mention cars, parks, public spaces, abandoned buildings, substandard housing, bus or train stations, or similar settings.
Geller said the numbers are under reported as parents fear that by reporting children as homeless, they will be taken from them. She also noted that the 1,245 number only includes school age children.
Kids Count also uses another measure for homes, a point in time count, which tries to identify the number of homeless individuals on any single day. For January 25, 2017 for instance, on that single day, there were 1,180 individuals reported as homeless, a report compiled by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The demographic make-up includes children, families, the mentally ill, veterans, and victims of domestic violence, among others. On that day, 184 were characterized as mentally ill, 121 victims of domestic violence, 99 chronic substance abuse, and 36 unaccompanied youth, and 31 veterans.
Crossroads Rhode Island, on its web page, described the report as a “snapshot of homelessness,” and that in Rhode Island the number increased by 1.7 percent, with an “alarming” increase in “chronic homelessness,” up by 66.6 percent, and families increasing by 25 percent.
“PIT (Point in Time) counts are problematic,” Crossroads said, “in that they count people only for one night during the coldest time of year when shelters are more likely to be full. But, that is also when more people without homes double up with friends or family and are not counted.
“Most counts do not include homeless people who are incarcerated, although their numbers are significant. Enumerators cannot be expected to cover every location, especially on a cold and dark winter night, and many people living in hidden places will be missed.”
Crossroads, like so many others, said there is a lack of “stock of housing that is affordable for people at the lowest income levels. There is no effective state-wide coordinated effort focused on housing development and programs for people who are experiencing homelessness or are at-risk for homelessness.”
Crossroads is calling for a greater investment of state and federal funds for housing, “We Have to Stay Focused on Housing,” Crossroads said, “Housing is the only solution to homelessness.”
WhatsUpNewp was recently awarded an Impact-Designed Investigative Grant (I-DIG) for investigative reporting from Local Independent Online News Publishers (LION) and the Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation. What’sUpNewp, who was one of 18 grant winners across the country, is using our I-DIG grant to fund this project on Affordable Housing.
Courtesy of WhatsUpNewp
Washington, DC – A diverse range of organizations from various sectors announced a new campaign today to increase affordable housing for America’s most vulnerable communities.
The Opportunity Starts at Home campaign launched today at the National Low Income Housing Coalition’s (NLIHC’s) Housing Policy Forum in Washington, DC. With financial support from the Funders for Housing and Opportunity, NLIHC launched this new multi-sector affordable homes campaign together with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Children’s HealthWatch, Make Room, and the National Alliance to End Homelessness, and with a steering committee that includes Catholic Charities USA, Children’s Defense Fund, Community Catalyst, Food Research and Action Center, NAACP, National Alliance on Mental Illness, National Association of Community Health Centers, National Education Association, and UnidosUS.
Stakeholders from multiple sectors are increasingly recognizing the importance of affordable housing to their own priorities and goals. The Opportunity Starts at Home campaign seeks to mobilize powerful new constituencies beyond housing to ensure that people with the lowest incomes have access to safe, decent, affordable housing in neighborhoods where everyone has equitable opportunities to thrive.
Recent NLIHC research shows the U.S. has a shortage of 7.2 million rental homes affordable and available to extremely low income (ELI) renters, and 11 million ELI renter households are severely housing cost-burdened, spending more than half of their incomes on housing. There are only 35 affordable and available rental homes for every 100 ELI households nationwide, and no state has an adequate supply of affordable rental housing for the lowest income renters. Just one out of four eligible low income households receives federal housing assistance.
The consequences of America’s affordable housing crisis are spilling over into many other areas like the education, health care, civil rights, anti-hunger, homelessness, and anti-poverty sectors. By combining voices and expertise, leading organizations from these sectors seek to build a broad national movement that promotes federal policies that protect and expand affordable housing.
The long-term goals of the campaign are to promote federal policies that:
The campaign will also act to defend against funding cuts and harmful policy changes in existing low income housing programs.
Opportunity Starts at Home is also working to strengthen the capacities of multi-sector state coalitions that share the campaign’s goals. The campaign has already issued capacity-building grants to partners in seven states: California, Idaho, Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon, and Utah.
“The time to act is now,” said Diane Yentel, NLIHC president and CEO. “The housing affordability problem has reached historic heights. Federal housing assistance is chronically underfunded and faces increasing threats. It’s time for those who believe that everyone in America deserves a safe and affordable home to join in a movement that will ensure fundamental opportunities for people most in need.”
“UnidosUS is dedicated to improving opportunities for Latinos and we’re especially proud of our work over the past 50 years to empower Latinos to contribute and to share in the nation’s economic opportunities,” said Eric Rodriguez, UnidosUS vice president for policy and advocacy. “A good home is the foundation for many of those opportunities: a better education for our children, enhanced employment opportunities, and a safe and stable place for families to live. We joined Opportunity Starts at Home because too many hardworking families struggle to keep a roof over their heads and it will take all sectors of society to make progress and ensure that more Americans, including Latinos, have a place to call home.”
“The United States cannot say we cherish our children when millions of extremely poor children each year suffer through homelessness or are denied access to safe and affordable housing,” said Richard Hooks Wayman, national executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund. “Research shows that half of our intelligence potential is developed by age four. Positive child development is linked to a sense of safety, predictability, and routines. We must do our part to ensure that children have housing stability during a critical stage of development. We must do our part to ensure that housing in this nation is affordable and accessible. And we must do our part to ensure that investments in affordable housing production that keep children safe and secure is continued.”
“NAMI is proud to be a part of this multi-sector housing campaign because access to decent, safe and affordable housing is a critical need for people living with a mental illness,” said Andrew Sperling, director of legislative and policy advocacy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “It is simply not possible to achieve recovery and a full life in the community without stable housing. Given the current threats to rental assistance programs it is critical that NAMI joins with our partners across so many diverse sectors to fight for policies and future investments in affordable rental housing programs.”
“NEA is committed to the three million members and the 50 million students we serve and are pleased to support programs, campaigns and initiatives that are in support of students, educators and families,” said Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association. “We understand and know firsthand the impacts affordable and stable housing have on student success. We also know that given the wages and income of some of our members, it impacts where they work as well as their own families.”
“The NAACP is proud to join this multi-sector housing campaign as it aligns with our goal of economic equality in housing,” said Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). “The research is increasingly clear that housing affects all aspects of a quality life; therefore, federal housing policy is very important for the people we serve. We find that threats to federal housing assistance are unprecedented and this campaign will indeed shed a brighter light on the needs of all people.”
“Housing affordability is one of the greatest challenges facing our nation. It limits economic mobility, reinforces racial inequities, reduces health and education outcomes, and is a primary driver of homelessness in the United States,” said Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “The Opportunity Starts at Home campaign brings together an unprecedented multi-sector coalition, focused on increasing critically needed federal investments in affordable housing. We are honored to be part of this important effort.”
“No one should be without a safe and stable home, which is why the Opportunity Starts at Homecampaign is so critical, especially now,” said Ali Solis, president and CEO of Make Room Inc. “By partnering with organizations from the healthcare, housing and education sectors who share our mission, Make Room hopes to accelerate our goal of creating a country where everyone has a home that they can afford. We are honored to be part of this important campaign.”
“Too often, the issues of housing, health, education and income security are considered in silos, separate from one another,” said Doug Rice, senior policy analyst for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “But a home is much more than just four walls and a roof; it’s the pathway to a healthier, more prosperous, and more secure life, and something that far too many Americans cannot attain. We are excited to join forces with leaders in so many fields to advance effective solutions to help our nation’s most vulnerable.”
“A stable, affordable home is a prescription for good health,” said Dr. Megan Sandel, principal investigator with Children’s HealthWatch. “Children’s HealthWatch is excited to join our colleagues on the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign to identify solutions that provide access to safe, decent, affordable housing in neighborhoods where everyone has equitable opportunities to thrive.”
Learn more about the Opportunity Starts at Home campaign at: www.OpportunityHome.org
Opportunity Starts at Home is a new national multi-sector campaign to generate widespread support for federal policies that protect and expand affordable housing.
Established in 1974 by Cushing N. Dolbeare, the National Low Income Housing Coalition is dedicated solely to achieving socially just public policy that assures people with the lowest income in the United States have affordable and decent homes.
Courtesy of Opportunity Starts at Home, NLIHC
(Note: Over the last few weeks WhatsUpNewp has been exploring affordable housing issues. Last Friday, HousingWorksRI released its annual Fact Book, providing a detailed look at how the state and its municipalities are addressing affordable housing issues. To view our stories and podcast in this series, visit Affordable Housing. Meanwhile, we’ll be continuing our affordable housing series in the upcoming weeks.)
Businesses and communities benefit when there’s adequate affordable housing for moderate- and low-income individuals and families, a message that affordable housing advocates believe will begin to get those who typically have ignored the issue, to begin taking it seriously.
“A policy window is opening,” said Dr. Tiffany Manuel, a housing advocate, speaking at the HousingWorksRI luncheon at which the organization unveiled its 2018 Housing Fact Book. “Nationally we have a moment. How do I make them care? Why it’s important. Why it makes us better.”
Her premise is to equate affordable housing with economic development.
It’s an approach that is well documented on various websites that not only show the jobs created by construction but the number of employees that would be served by an increase in affordable housing.
Manuel’s comments came on the day that HousingWorksRI unveiled findings that only reinforced Manuel’s characterization of the “severity of the housing crisis.”
According to HousingWorksRI households at or below the state’s median household income of $58,387 could only afford to buy single-family homes in two (Central Falls and Providence) of Rhode Island’s 39 municipalities.
Only six municipalities (up from five last year) have reached the mandated 10 percent of affordable housing, legislation that was adopted nearly three decades ago. Burrillville became the sixth community reaching the threshold, joining Central Falls, Newport, New Shoreham (Block Island), Providence, and Woonsocket.
The state law requires municipalities to “ensure a minimal number (10 percent) of quality, affordable homes are available to low- and moderate-income Rhode Islanders for a minimum of 30 years,” according to HousingWorks RI.
The lack of affordable housing is reflected upon the number of Rhode Islanders struggling to meet mortgage payments or rent.
“The continuous climb in the cost of housing and lack of new homes has left more than 145,000 Rhode Island households, or 35 percent of all households, cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs,” according to the Fact Book. Some 44 percent of the 145,000 households that are cost burdened are considered “severely cost burdened,” spending more than 50 percent of their income on housing costs.
Some other of HousingWorks key findings:
Manuel emphasized the importance of federal, state, and municipalities of addressing affordable housing issues as a way of fueling the economy, good for businesses and communities. Here’s what some others say:
By KENDRA GRAVELLE | Jun 23, 2018
SOUTH KINGSTOWN—With the topic of affordable housing on the minds of many who live in South Kingstown, the town’s affordable housing collaborative committee hosted a workshop at the South Kingstown Recreation Center Tuesday to hear residents’ thoughts on the issue.
“By providing affordable housing it helps our community become a little bit more diverse, it allows for us to age in place,” said Cheryl Hartnett, chair of the affordable housing collaborative committee. “Then the other portion that really hits home for me is for it to remain a vibrant multicultural community.”
“We need to think about, what kind of community do we want South Kingstown to be?” she continued.
Planning Director Chelsea Siefert explained Tuesday that housing that costs 30 percent or less of someone’s income is typically considered affordable. And when it comes to affordable housing currently available in South Kingstown, Siefert added the town is “lacking.”
There are two kinds of affordable housing—there’s deed-restricted, income-based housing, and there’s affordable housing in a more general sense, which considers what housing affordability in South Kingstown is like overall.
A state mandate indicates that 10 percent of the year-round housing in a given town should be deed-restricted affordable. In South Kingstown, currently just 5.6 percent of the housing—612 units—fall under that category.
Siefert added that a perusal Tuesday of Realtor.com painted a grim picture of affordable housing in South Kingstown.
The website indicated there’s currently a very low number of affordable listings—just six two-bedroom houses were listed under $200,000—as well as a lack of affordable year-round rental properties.
Jen Krueger, member services director of Jonnycake Center of Peace Dale and a member of the affordable housing collaborative committee, added that the lack of affordable housing in town means that many who are employed locally—in the service industry for example—are unable to afford to live where they work.
“If you think about all these different kinds of places where folks are not able to make $25 of $30 an hour, they’re really, really having trouble finding any housing here where they work,” she said, adding those with disabilities or on fixed incomes are also struggling.
“There are just so many different people that really need housing that’s affordable,” she continued. “Even if someone gets a Section 8 voucher that they can use in South Kingstown or Narragansett, I personally have had a very difficult time finding rentals that folks may well have waited years to be eligible for.”
She said because of that, many families who have lived in the area for generations have been left with no choice but to relocated to more affordable towns up north.
Hartnett echoed some of that. She added she appreciates the town’s vibrancy, but doesn’t think it can be sustained if housing prices remain where they are.
“The other thing that saddens me when I drive around town too is the empty storefronts,” she added. “In order to fill those storefronts, we need to be able to entice businesses to come here, and in order to do that there needs to be homes for their employees.”
Those in attendance—including many local leaders as well as Town Manager Rob Zarnetske and Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow—were divided into groups to discuss among themselves their visions for affordable housing and the hurdles which pose challenges to those visions.
The round-table portion of the meeting churned up all kinds of thoughts on the topic. Among those mentioned was a resounding concern over the lack of education on what affordable housing means.
“[There’s] a lack of understanding among the general public of what we mean by affordable housing,” Zarnetske said.
“A major challenge is actually this notion that the ideal is pretty close to what we’ve got,” he continued. “A lot of people in town really think we’ve got it exactly right.”
Several people Tuesday mentioned the concept of NIMBYism (not-in-my-back-yard), and added it would be crucial to break through stereotypes.
Some of the points listed under visions were thoughts of utilizing accessory units; encouraging starter homes; sharing resources with the University of Rhode Island; and the possibility of adding more diverse housing.
“Right now we have a lot of single-family houses, we don’t have a lot of smaller structure or multi-units,” planning board member Joe Murphy said.
Kenny Burke, who’s on the affordable housing collaborative committee, urged those eager to lend a hand to become involved with local nonprofits doing work in affordable housing, including the Welcome House of South County, the Jonnycake Center and Galilee Mission. He also encouraged residents to follow what’s going on in the local committees.
Siefert added a public hearing during Monday’s town council meeting will invite residents to share their thoughts on proposed zoning changes for multi-housing developments. She also said the town currently has a request for proposal (RFP) out to hire someone to help review the town’s inclusionary zoning ordinance.
“When you have a major land development project or major subdivision that’s six units or more, you have to provide 20 percent as deed-restricted affordable housing,” Siefert explained. “We want to figure out how we can better make use of that, incentivize it better, get more concrete results out of that.”
With a lack of affordable housing in the town, Hartnett added Tuesday she was pleased to see so many South Kingstown residents advocating for changing that.
“I’m happy to see that our wheels seem to be spinning,” Hartnett said. “Affordable housing is a hot topic and I love to see everyone that’s come out engaging in the community.”
Courtesy of The Narragansett Times
By Kendra Gravelle | firstname.lastname@example.org
SOUTH KINGSTOWN – During a briefing and panel discussion on affordable housing hosted by the Washington County Coalition for Children, the theme was clear.
“We need more housing,” Annette Bourne, research and policy director at HousingWorks RI, said Wednesday morning to a packed room at Thundermist.
Housing prices across southern Rhode Island are some of the highest in the state, Bourne explained.
“And the incomes that are needed to support these home prices… it’s quite a barrier,” she said.
In Narragansett, where just 3.8 percent of the year-round housing stock is affordable, the median price for a single family home is $420,000, according to the HousingWorks RI 2018 Housing Fact Book. An income of $108,501 would be needed to afford that.
In South Kingstown, meanwhile, the median price for a single family home is $349,000, which would require an income of $97,050. Of South Kingstown’s year-round housing stock, just 5.6 percent is currently affordable.
And in terms of entry-level homes, Jennifer Krueger, who works for the Jonnycake Center of Peace Dale and served on the South Kingstown Affordable Housing Collaborative, pointed out Wednesday that there just aren’t enough on the market.
“So if you want to buy a home, it’s really, really challenging,” she said.
Bourne added that there’s also insufficient rental stock in southern Rhode Island.
“And, again, to be able to afford [what is available] you’re looking at income ranges hovering around $55,000 to $60,000,” she continued. “We’re not talking about people who are characterized as abject poverty.”
Bourne’s presentation preceded a panel discussion by James Comer, executive director of the Women’s Development Corporation, Rep. Teresa Tanzi (South Kingstown, Narragansett), and Alice Buckley, executive director of the Washington County Community Development Corporation.
Amid a lively discussion, panelist identified several factors as contributors to Washington County’s lack of affordable housing, including low wages, a lack of available funding, and the “not in my backyard,” or NIMBY, phenomenon.
Comer attributed the “NIMBY mindset” to a general misunderstanding of affordable housing.
“If you ask the average person what they conceive of affordable housing, the image they get is… this monolithic project that is full of crime and drugs and all these negative social connotations,” Comer said.
Buckley added that “it’s all about fear of the unknown.”
There are, in fact, all sorts of residents who require affordable housing. During her presentation, Bourne identified retired people, single parents and veterans as a few examples of residents who may benefit from affordable homes.
There are also different types of affordable housing, Bourne added. Market-priced affordable homes, for example, include homes that are affordable and for which homeowners can expect to pay no more than 30 percent of their income. Long-term affordable homes, on the other hand, are deed restricted.
Affordable housing units can be built to blend in with other area housing, Comer pointed out, citing the example of Charlestown’s ChurchWoods.
“It is beautiful,” Comer said of the 24-unit low-income rental complex for seniors, developed by Washington County CDC. “It is integrated into its community, it looks great and the average person driving by has no idea it’s affordable housing.”
As for work at the Statehouse that could positively affect Rhode Island’s affordable housing crisis, Tanzi, who serves as vice-chair of the House Committee on Finance said she’s “painfully aware of all of the issues that exist in the lack of funding,” for affordable housing, shared a few initiatives she’s working on.
Tanzi pointed out she and her colleagues are trying to push through a bill that would ban discrimination against tenants on the basis of their source of income.
“The source of your dollar shouldn’t matter,” she said, adding the outlook for that legislation has become “increasingly more hopeful.”
“I know that there’s an increase in knowledge about the barrier that that type of discrimination presents,” she continued.
But while the outlook for that legislation seems promising, Tanzi admitted that funding for affordable housing has not been a priority in the General Assembly.
“The priority has not been around these types of issues,” she said. “It’s been about reducing the car tax, it’s been about reducing business taxes, about holding the line on increasing costs. It’s about cutting taxes, it’s about where do we rank nationally, and to me those priorities are all wrong.”
Unlike in most other New England states, in Rhode Island, there is no permanent stream for creating affordable homes. Existing state programs are funded by occasional bonds.
“We are looking for a dedicated housing stream that builds homes and contributed to the upkeep of homes that are affordable to most Rhode Islanders,” said Bourne, who pointed out that Massachusetts spends some 20 times more per capita on affordable housing than does Rhode Island.
Raising the minimum wage is another way Tanzi said she hopes to address the issue. At the current Rhode Island minimum wage of $10.10 per hour, Tanzi noted it would take someone 67 hours of work per week to be able to afford housing.
That, Tanzi added, is “obviously unsustainable.”
“When we look at why there is an affordable housing problem well, we have a wage problem,” Comer added. “You look at wage growth over the past 40 years in the United States and it’s a flat line – it’s awful.”
Comer also pointed out that the lack of affordable housing is sort of an “invisible problem” in rural and suburban communities, adding that often the perception in rural areas is that it’s just people from urban areas who need affordable housing.
“And that couldn’t be further from the truth,” he continued.
Particularly in towns like Narragansett and South Kingstown, where the workforce is largely defined by tourism, affordability in housing is crucial.
“Where’s the bartender living? And the waitresses, and the housekeepers? Those are the people that we need to build housing for,” Buckley said, adding that affordable housing provides employers with a stable workforce.
“The people who are against [affordable housing] don’t understand the benefit,” Buckley continued. “They don’t understand the benefit of having people living here and working her and being part of the community.”
And while the importance of affordable housing may seem obvious–people need shelter–it’s also tied to several social determinants. Bourne said she considers housing as essential to well-being.
Buckley echoed that.
“[Affordable housing] really is key to improving education and health,” she said, adding that poor health is often linked to issues like unstable housing and food insecurity.
Bourne ended her presentation with a plea to help spread stories of the people who could benefit from affordable housing.
“Tell us about the kid who was moving three times a year who is now the star student because he or she no longer has to move every few months,” Bourne said.
She also encouraged a healthy dialogue with those who are opposed to affordable housing, noting also the pro-development YIMBY (“yes in my backyard”) movement that has sprung up in Massachusetts.
“And if we are the YIMBYs,” Bourne said to those in attendance, “we need to be showing up.”
Courtesy of The Narragansett Times
Stay in the loop by subscribing to our newsletter!
Newsletter Sign Up
Newsletter Sign Up
One Empire Plaza
Providence, RI 02903
A project of HousingWorks RI