PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Central Falls is the only place in Rhode Island where a family can affordably buy a single-family home, and there is no place in the state where a person making minimum wage can rent affordably.
Those were just a couple of the more sobering data points laid out in the 2023 Housing Fact Book released Friday by HousingWorks RI at Roger Williams University.
The annual snapshot examining all things housing in Rhode Island offers a fresh window into a crisis that’s fueling homelessness, boxing first-time buyers out of the housing market and using up hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that are barely moving the needle.
“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,” HousingWorks RI advisory board chair Stephen Antoni said in a statement.
The state’s median household income is about $75,000, but housing advocates agree that $100,000 per year was historically enough to affordably purchase a home in most Rhode Island communities.
Now, however, HousingWorks reports Central Falls is the only municipality out of all 39 where families making $100,000 can affordably purchase a median-priced home. And even that is likely little comfort to families currently living in the tiny city — the report also highlights that the median price of $273,000 in Central Falls “is actually not affordable to most of the residents of Central Falls where the median household income is $40,235.”
The news doesn't get any better for renters in Rhode Island, where vacancy rates were less than 3% in last year's final quarter and this year's first quarter, slapping the state with the federal designation known as a "tight" rental market.
A HousingWorks RI survey of renters shows an average 2-bedroom apartment costs $1,996 in Rhode Island, requiring an annual income of nearly $80,000 to affordably rent. That's double the state's median renter income of $40,000, according to the report.
That all translates into nearly a third of Rhode Island households being cost-burdened by their housing, meaning they are spending at least 30% of their monthly income on housing.
And advocates point out every dollar spent on housing means there's less money for a family to spend on other aspects of life, which can ultimately spell trouble for hundreds of thousands of residents.
"The financial stress on households directing more than 30% of their income toward housing costs has ramifications for the average household budget," researchers wrote in the report. "Paying more than 50% can signal housing insecurity for many and lead to sacrifices in well-being or the loss of a place to live."
On the rental side, Burrillville is the only municipality where the state's median household income for renters of $41,277 is enough to affordably rent an average-priced two-bedroom apartment, according to the report.
And the story just gets worse for the state's lowest-income residents.
"Alarmingly, nowhere is Rhode Island does a full-time minimum wage job earn enough to rent that Burrillville apartment affordably," researchers wrote.
The housing crisis comes at the same time the state's unemployment rate is at a historic low, and officials have trumpeted a strong economy. But the researchers noted that 73% of the state's fast-growing jobs don't pay enough to comfortably buy or rent a home in Rhode Island.
The crisis has also fueled homelessness, with the report showing the number of people experiencing homelessness has increased 72% since 2019, including a 65% increase in the number of households with at least one underage child.
The report acknowledges the state has been trying to address the interwoven problems associated with the housing crisis, highlighting different buckets of new money including the $321 million from Rhode Island's federal COVID relief funds that's been allocated for housing initiatives. Roughly $191 million of those funds remain in the current fiscal year, according to the report.
But the researchers were sober as they outlined the different risks associated with a housing market that's unstable and often out of reach to hundreds of thousands of Rhode Islanders.
"Unaffordable housing puts residents at risk in a multitude of ways," researchers wrote. "Positive outcomes in health, education, and economic stability -- collectively reflected in the social determinants of health -- all hinge on housing security."