PROVIDENCE — Six of every 10 extremely low-income households that rent in Rhode Island spend more than half of their income on housing alone, and are at risk of homelessness, according to a newly released report.
On Thursday, the National Low Income Housing Coalition released “The Gap” report, which is an annual compilation of data that examines the shortage of affordable homes across the country. The United States has a total shortage of 7.3 million affordable and available rental homes for extremely low-income rental households.
Between 2019 and 2021, the national shortage of affordable housing for extremely low-income renters worsened by more than half a million units, according to the NLIHC. Some rental inflation has cooled during the first quarter of 2023, but those with extremely low incomes are still facing significant barriers to finding and maintaining affordable housing. In many cases, their incomes are insufficient to cover even modest rental costs, NLIHC president and CEO Diane Yentel said.
In Rhode Island, there are 51,596 extremely low-income households, but only 27,547 rental homes are affordable and available to them, the report found. That indicates there’s a shortage of 24,049 affordable and available units just for this income bracket.
A family of four earning $31,750 or less each year is considered “extremely low income.” A rental home is considered affordable when total housing costs are no more than 30 percent of the household’s gross annual income.
Caitlin Frumerie, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness, said the Coordinated Entry System Help Center (which people can call if they are trying to access shelter) receives more than 1,000 calls from those experiencing housing insecurity each week.
“The supply of housing does not meet demand,” she said firmly.
Frumerie said 379 Rhode Islanders have been unsheltered in the last two weeks. “And scores more [are] housing insecure,” she said.
The majority of the state’s housing stock was built prior to 1980, which can prove challenging due to lead exposure and other asthma triggers, said Brenda Clement, the director of HousingWorks RI, a clearinghouse on housing headquartered at Roger Williams University.
While The Gap report looks at the overall number of units and their affordability, Clement said it’s critical for the state to examine the overall quality of units.
“We must not forget to look after our existing units, ensuring they remain safe, secure, and healthy,” Clement said.
Yentel, in a statement to the Globe, said federal housing investments in states are “more critical than ever” in the aftermath of the pandemic, to sustain communities and “help low-income people thrive.” Yet housing and other programs for low-income households may face cuts by Congress.
“Balancing the national budget must not be done on the backs of our nation’s lowest-income and most marginalized people and families,” said Yentel.
In Rhode Island, Melina Lodge, executive director of the Housing Network, said the state has a “window of opportunity for us to capitalize on,” due to leadership in the state’s House of Representatives, including Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, and federal dollars that can be used as an “initial investment.”
Shekarchi recently unveiled a 14-bill package of housing legislation. Pieces of the legislation could prohibit landlords from charging rental application fees, and encourage dense housing development around transportation hubs.
The Gap Report also found that Rhode Island has just 53 affordable and available rental homes for every 100 households with extremely low incomes. In the greater Providence area, there are only 48 affordable and available rental homes for every households of this same income bracket.
“Since a disproportionate share of their income is being spent on monthly housing costs, this makes it difficult for these households to afford other essential needs, such as food, child and health care expenses,” Lodge said.
Lodge, who sits on the state’s Low and Moderate Income Housing Commission, said it is “imperative” that Rhode Island invest in policies and programs that will expand the stock of affordable housing.
“We must act with urgency,” she said.