Housing Glossary

There are literally hundreds of terms and programs that pertain to the field of affordable housing. Below are those terms that are most frequently used. If you don't see what you are looking for, please contact us directly.

You live in housing that is affordable to you if you pay no more than 30 percent of your gross household income on rent or mortgage payments. This percentage meets the federal guideline for "affordability." Some states include the cost of utilities in that 30 percent calculation.

Per R.I.G.L. 42-128-8.1(d)(1), "Affordable housing" means residential housing that has a sales price or rental amount that is within the means of a household that is moderate income or less. In the case of dwelling units for sale, housing that is affordable means housing in which principal, interest, taxes, which may be adjusted by state and local programs for property tax relief, and insurance constitute no more than thirty percent (30%) of the gross household income for a household with less than one hundred and twenty percent (120%) of area median income, adjusted for family size. In the case of dwelling units for rent, housing that is affordable means housing for which the rent, heat, and utilities other than telephone constitute no more than thirty percent (30%) of the gross annual household income for a household with eighty percent (80%) or less of area median income, adjusted for family size.

(1) Any housing unit intentionally priced less than fair-market value, to be sold or rented to the low- or moderate-income market. (2) The financing of housing at less than prevailing interest rates.

Development in which single family dwelling units are placed in closer proximity than zoning typically allows. Cluster development can save money on infrastructure like roads and their maintenance, while preserving permanently for the common good environmental assets like woodlands and environmentally sensitive areas. The techniques used to concentrate buildings might include reduction in lot areas, setback requirements, and/or bulk requirements, with the resultant open land being devoted by deed restrictions for one or more uses.

A Federal program created under the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974. This program provides annual grants on a formula basis to be used for a wide range of community development activities directed toward neighborhood revitalization, economic development, and improved community facilities and services. CDBG replaces several categorical grant programs such as the model cities program, the urban renewal program and the Housing Rehabilitation Loan and Grant Program. Community Development Corporation (CDC) A nonprofit [501(c)(3) charitable or 501(c)(4) civic/community organization] developer of affordable homes, for renting and for purchase. Some CDCs build affordable commercial space and child care facilities, too. There are hundreds of CDCs across the nation. Rhode Island has more than 20.

Refers to the act of constructing buildings vertically rather than horizontally, and configuring them on a block or neighborhood scale that makes efficient use of land and resources, and is consistent with neighborhood character and scale. Compact building design reduces the footprint of new construction, thus preserving greenspace to absorb and filter rain water, reduce flooding and stormwater drainage needs, and lower the amount of pollution washing into our streams, rivers and lakes. Compact building design is necessary to sustain transit ridership at levels necessary to make public transit a viable transportation option.

A household paying more than 30% of its gross income for housing is "cost-burdened."

Any household paying more than 50% of its gross income on housing or living in severely dilapidated housing, has a "critical housing need."

Restrictions or limitations to the use of property as noted in a deed.

Refers to the number of housing units or square feet of commercial space per unit of land, usually "per acre."

Typically one- and two-bedroom apartments or condominiums designed to meet the needs of persons 62 years of age and older or, if more than 150 units, persons 55 years of age and older, and restricted to occupancy by them.

A federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. It applies to both home buying and renting. Rhode Island's own Fair Housing Practices Act provides for even more protection than the federal law. The state's Commission for Human Rights is the enforcement agency.

(1) The hypothetical price that a willing buyer and seller will agree upon when they are acting freely, carefully, and with complete knowledge of the situation. (2) The amount an appraiser decides a house is worth. The appraiser compares the house with houses like it that have sold recently in the same area. The physical condition of the house also affects its fair market value.

HUD's estimate of the actual market rent for a modest apartment in the conventional marketplace. Fair market rents include utility costs (except for telephones).

Established in 1934 to advance homeownership opportunities for all Americans, the FHA assists homebuyers by providing mortgage insurance to lenders to cover most losses that may occur when a borrower defaults. This encourages lenders to make loans to borrowers, including low-income families, who might not qualify for conventional mortgages.

The total amount of money that a person receives, before taxes and other deductions. This income may include funds from a job or jobs; interest or dividends; alimony; disability payments; or public assistance.

A growth center is an area designated by a community for compact, higher density development which can absorb future growth. While in most communities this means concentrating development in existing village centers, downtowns, urban neighborhoods or industrial parks, in some it means establishing new town centers or "emerging downtowns." Growth centers encourage pedestrian traffic and social interaction. They also curb sprawl (and its attendant high infrastructure costs) and help maintain the rural, open characteristics of the surrounding landscape.

One or more persons living together in a single dwelling unit, with common access to, and common use of, all living and eating areas and all areas and facilities for the preparation and storage of food within the dwelling unit. The term "household unit" is synonymous with the term "dwelling unit" for determining the number of units allowed within any structure on any lot in a zoning district. An individual household shall consist of any one of the following: (i) A family, which may also include servants and employees living with the family; or (ii) A person or group of unrelated persons living together. The maximum number may be set by local ordinance, but this maximum shall not be less than three.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. By its own definition: "Established in 1965, HUD works to create a decent home and suitable living environment for all Americans; it does this by addressing housing needs, improving and developing American communities, and enforcing fair housing laws." HUD oversees the Federal Housing Administration.

Individuals or households with income levels that qualify for affordable housing. Inclusionary Zoning A mandatory requirement or voluntary goal to reserve a specific percentage of housing units for lower-income households in residential developments.

The process whereby the local authority may grant additional development capacity in exchange for the developer's provision of a public benefit or amenity such as preservation of greater than the minimum required open space, provision for low- and moderate-income housing, or plans for public plazas and courts at ground level.

Setting aside or purchasing land for use or resale at a later date. "Banked lands" have been used for development of low- and moderate-income housing, expansion of parks, and development of industrial and commercial centers. Federal rail-banking law allows railroads to bank unused rail corridors for future rail use while allowing interim use as trails.

A household whose income does not exceed 80 percent of the median income for the area, as determined by HUD, with adjustments for smaller or larger families. HUD may establish income ceilings higher or lower than 80 percent of the median for the area median on the basis of HUD's findings that such variations are necessary because of prevailing levels of construction costs or fair market rents, or unusually high or low family incomes.

Per R.I.G.L. 45-53-3(5), "low and moderate income housing" means any housing whether built or operated by any public agency or any non-profit organization or by any limited equity housing cooperative or any private developer, that is subsidized by the federal, state, or municipal government under any program to assist the construction or rehabilitation of housing affordable to low or moderate income households, as defined in the applicable federal or state statute, or local ordinance and that will remain affordable through a land lease and/or deed restriction for ninety-nine (99) years or such other period that is either agreed to by the applicant and town or prescribed by the federal, state, or municipal subsidy program but that is not less than thirty (30) years from initial occupancy.

The Low and Moderate Income Housing Act (R.I.G.L. 45-53) was passed in 1991 to facilitate low and moderate income housing development by non-profit developers, mainly CDC's. For-profit developers could use the provisions of the Act to develop rental housing only. The act provides for fast track approval through local zoning boards and an appeal process through the State Housing Appeals Board (SHAB) of projects that include at least 25 percent government-subsidized units.

The point at which half the households in an area make less and half make more. Eligibility and the need for affordable housing are determined using state or county median income, not the median income of a specific town.

A type of development which includes families with various income levels. Mixed-income developments are intended to decrease economic and social isolation.

A type of development that combines various uses, such as office, commercial, institutional, and residential, in a single building or on a single site in an integrated development project with significant functional interrelationships and a coherent physical design.

Households whose incomes are between 81 percent and 95 percent of the median income for the area, as determined by HUD, with adjustments for smaller or larger families. HUD may establish income ceilings higher or lower than 95 percent of the median for the area on the basis of HUD's findings that such variations are necessary because of prevailing levels of construction costs, fair market rents, or unusually high or low family incomes.

Public housing was established to provide decent and safe rental housing for eligible low-income families, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. Public housing comes in all sizes and types, from scattered single family houses to highrise apartments for elderly families. There are approximately 1.3 million households living in public housing units, managed by some 3,300 housing agencies (HAs). The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administers Federal aid to local housing agencies that manage the housing for low-income residents at rents they can afford. HUD furnishes technical and professional assistance in planning, developing and managing these developments.

Organization created by local government which administers HUD's Low-Income Public Housing Program and other HUD programs including Section 8 subsidies. Organized in accordance with the provisions of RI General Laws Title 45, under Chapters 25 and 26, public authorities have the power to prepare, carry out, and operate housing projects, as well as investigate housing conditions and make recommendations for low income housing. Rhode Island has 26 public housing authorities, and Rhode Island Housing administers the Section 8 program for those towns that do not have their own housing authority.

RIHousing is the state's principal housing agency. Rhode Island Housing administers many of the federal and state programs used to finance affordable housing, is a public housing authority for 16 cities and towns in RI, oversees the RI Section 8 housing development portfolio and has a mortgage center for first time home buyers.

Formerly the Farmers Home Administration, RD is part of the U. S. Department of Agriculture. It administers grant and loan programs to promote and support housing and essential community facilities development in rural communities.

A federal (HUD) rent-subsidy program. It is one of the main sources of housing assistance for low-income households, authorized by the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974. Although it is commonly referred to as "Section 8," it is now officially called the Housing Choice Voucher Program. Under the program, an income-qualified household typically contributes 30 percent of its adjusted gross monthly income toward the "Fair Market Rent" of a unit (as set by HUD). The Section 8 program pays the rest via "housing assistance payments" (HAP) to landlords.

Smart growth is development that serves three masters: the economy, the community, and the environment. Smart growth development policies aim to prevent urban sprawl and pollution, while creating livable cities, promoting economic development, and protecting open spaces. Smart growth changes the terms of the development debate away from the traditional growth/no growth question to "how and where should new development be accommodated." For more information about smart growth in Rhode Island, contact GrowSmart RI.

Housing that does not meet local, state or federal housing code guidelines and that poses a threat to the health and safety of those living in the unit/building, or that does not have adequate plumbing or heating facilities.

The Supportive Housing Program promotes the development of supportive housing and supportive services, including innovative approaches that assist homeless persons in the transition from homelessness and enable them to live as independently as possible. SHP funds may be used to provide transitional housing, permanent housing for persons with disabilities, innovative supportive housing, supportive services, or safe havens for the homeless.

Shelter provided to the homeless for an extended period, often as long as 24 months, and generally integrated with other social services and counseling programs to assist in the transition to self-sufficiency through the acquisition of a stable income and permanent housing.

A pedestrian-friendly development focused around a major transit access point. Elements usually include compact, mixed-use development, and facilities and design that enhance the environment for pedestrians.

The vacancy rate is a numerical value calculated as the percentage of all available units in a given area. Typically a low vacancy rate is an indicator for increased demand in housing.

Households whose incomes do not exceed 50 percent of the median area income for the area, as determined by HUD, with adjustments for smaller and larger families and for areas with unusually high or low incomes or where needed because of facility, college, or other training facility; prevailing levels of construction costs; or fair market rents.

The division of a municipality by legislative regulations into areas, or zones, which specify allowable uses for real property and size restrictions for buildings within these areas. (See "exclusionary zoning," "incentive zoning," "inclusionary zoning.")

A municipal ordinance which establish regulations and standards relating to the nature and extent of uses of land and structures, which is consistent with the comprehensive plan of the city or town.

The basic unit in zoning, either mapped or unmapped, to which a uniform set of regulations applies, or a uniform set of regulations for a specified use. Zoning use districts include, but are not limited to: agricultural, commercial, industrial, institutional, open space, and residential. Each district may include sub-districts. Districts may be combined. [R.I.G.L. 45-24-31(73)]

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Providence, RI 02903

RI Alliance for Healthy Homes

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