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Housing a matter of social justice, competition, basic health

McKee and Matos focus on affordable housing during second “Rhode Island 2030″ conversation. Here are the key takeaways from the conversation

Rhode Island Governor Daniel J. McKee and Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos hosted a "Rhode Island 2030" conversation on housing.
Rhode Island Governor Daniel J. McKee and Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos hosted a "Rhode Island 2030" conversation on housing.Handout

PROVIDENCE — Governor Daniel J. McKee and Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos on Thursday hosted a “Rhode Island 2030″ community conversation focused on the state’s low supply and high demand for housing.

You can watch the full Facebook Live event below. But here are some of the key quotes and data points from the presentation:

Low home ownership among people of color: Rhode Island has an overall 61 percent home ownership rate, which is lower than the nationwide average of 66 percent. But the home ownership rate is particularly low among some communities in the state – 33 percent for Black families and 29 percent for Hispanic families, said Robert Dietz, chief economist for the National Association of Home Builders.


Social justice issue of our time: Brenda Clement, director of HousingWorks RI at Roger Williams University, said zoning and land use issues are crucial. “I think zoning is the racial justice issue of our time,” she said. “The numbers for home ownership rates for minorities in the state have not significantly budged since late 1960s. Think about that for a minute. That means generations of families have been left out of the one solid way of creating wealth and stability for your family.”

Fewer Rhode Islanders can afford housing: The percent of new and existing homes that are affordable for a typical household has dropped from more than 80 percent in 2012 to 68 percent now – a trend driven by a 29-percent increase in home prices over the last five years because of the lack of housing supply, Dietz said.

State faces competition: “The race is on,” Dietz said. “Communities that have the ability to add affordable housing are going to see growth, and places that price themselves out of the market and limit construction growth are going to find that people are essentially going to be able to move away to more affordable markets.”


Housing connected to health: Central Falls Mayor Maria Rivera said, “We need additional housing stock. We just went through a health crisis because of the housing crisis here in Central Falls, at least, and in other cities in the state. Because of the lack of housing stock, I have two and three families living in one apartment with COVID. How can I expect them to isolate? That’s a crisis.”

Convert malls to housing: Travis Escobar, founder and board chairman of Millennial Rhode Island, asked about converting empty retail and office space into housing as work and business patterns change amid the pandemic. Deitz said he was speaking from Arlington, Va., where a dying shopping mall two miles away is being turned into an “urban village” that includes housing. Such projects will often require public funding and quick zoning changes, he said.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.