RI ranks 7th nationally in housing cost burden

Posted Feb. 24, 2012, at 6:54 p.m.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — More than a quarter of low- and moderate-income Rhode Island households are spending more than half their incomes on housing costs, a new national report has found.

The Center for Housing Policy report released Friday said that 26 percent of what it called working households had a “severe housing cost burden.” That’s up 2 percentage points since 2008.

Rhode Island tied for seventh nationally for cost burden. But in New England, the problem of affordability was steepest in the Ocean State. In Connecticut, 25 percent of working households were described as being cost burdened; in Massachusetts, 24 percent were.

Nationally, the Washington-based center said, nearly half of U.S. states saw declines in affordability over the last two years, as renters have seen incomes fall while rents have increased. Housing costs have fallen overall for owners, but they experienced more significant declines in income.

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“Rhode Island has consistently ranked in the top 10 in terms of unaffordability,” said Brenda Clement, executive director of the nonprofit Housing Action Coalition in Pawtucket. “It’s certainly not a new problem, it’s a chronic problem, but it’s a problem that we know how to cure.”

The report is based on information from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

HousingWorks RI, a coalition of groups that promotes affordable housing, recently issued similar findings on how much renters are spending on housing.

Nearly 40 percent of state residents live in rented homes and, among those who do, 27 percent shell out more than 50 percent of their incomes on housing expenses, HousingWorks found. The average cost of a three-bedroom apartment in 2010 — about $1,500 a month — was about 75 percent higher than a decade ago.

Clement called the $25 million bond in Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s proposed budget a “great first step” toward more affordable housing in Rhode Island, but said that that money, even if it’s approved by voters in November, won’t bring any more housing units at least for 18 months.

“It’s good, but it’s half the size of the previous bond, and it doesn’t give us any immediate dollars,” she said.

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