By Jeanne Cola
Gov. Gina Raimondo’s State of the State speech addressed many critical components needed for a healthy and prosperous Rhode Island, with one notable exception. In our view, having safe and affordable housing is a critical foundation for health equity, improvements in early learning and education, economic growth and workforce development. Without addressing the question of housing first, all other programs suffer from the outset.
The extreme shortage of housing has had a negative impact on the health and economic prosperity of our entire state and recent research paints an increasingly grim picture. The percentage of households considered cost burdened — those that pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing — has seen a steady increase.
There is now only one municipality where a family could afford to live with a $50,000 income. If that income increases to $70,000, there are only seven municipalities where they could call home. When you consider that in 2017 the median household income was just more than $61,000, the lack of affordable housing impacts a huge swath of residents including elderly, single parents, and young professionals.
The stress and uncertainty produced by the lack of adequate housing has had dramatic and wide-ranging effects — from student learning, early child care, workforce stability and health equity. When housing costs represent such a large percentage of income, there is little room to spend on anything else including food and medicine, paying for your child’s care while you’re at work, or even supporting local economies.
Investing in housing must be an immediate priority. In 2016, a Rhode Island Housing study concluded that Rhode Island needs an additional 34,600 units of housing but we consistently fall far short of that goal because of inadequate funding. We know Massachusetts spends more than a billion dollars on housing strategies for their citizens at all levels. And Connecticut recognizes the importance of a dedicated funding stream and has increased its support by nearly 10 percent each year. Conversely, the investment in housing solutions by our state — already at a painfully low level — was cut by half over a three-year period.
LISC Rhode Island is committed to supporting affordable housing. In the past four years alone, we have invested more than $94 million in developing our communities. But our efforts can’t hope to bridge the gap and address the need.
Rhode Island must have a dedicated funding stream to meet the production needs of housing for our state and address this foundational aspect of our economy. Without it, money spent on education, workforce training and economic development will not have the impact that we all hope it will.
Jeanne Cola is Executive Director of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation.
Posted Jan 25, 2019 at 11:01 PM