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Thursday, July 23, 2020

Thousands of Rhode Islanders face eviction at a time when affordable housing is scarce

New report shows housing is out of reach for many in RI
By  HomesRI

In order to afford a modest, two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent in Rhode Island, full-time workers need to earn $21.16 per hour. This is Rhode Island’s situation, revealed in a national report released today. 

The report, Out of Reach, was released by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), a research and advocacy organization dedicated solely to achieving affordable and decent homes for the lowest income people, and Homes RI.

“When the definition of home has changed for so many Rhode Islanders, and the trends remain the same – housing is out of reach for low-wage workers and other extremely low-income renters – the time for viable, long-term housing solutions is now,” said Brenda Clement, Director of HousingWorks RI at Roger Williams University.

This year, we release the Out of Reach report during a time when coronavirus has clearly illustrated that housing is healthcare. The mandate to “stay at home” was echoed by top officials across the country.

However, having a stable home was out of reach for millions of people before the pandemic, and more than 7.7 million extremely low-income renters were spending more than half of their limited incomes on housing costs, sacrificing other necessities to do so.

“When we see the alarming gap between real Rhode Island wages and the housing wage, we see that the need for long-term, sustained State investment in housing is great,” said Melina Lodge, Executive Director of the Housing Network of Rhode Island.

“And that was before COVID. More than ever, Rhode Island needs bold and ambitious investment in affordable housing.”

Over the past few months, millions of households have dealt with a decline in wages through layoffs, furloughs, or decreased work hours, and many struggled to afford their rents.

There are no states, metropolitan areas, nor ZIP codes in the country where renters can afford a home at Fair Market Rent without spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs. The severe shortage of affordable and available rental homes remains prevalent.

“I’ve been renting and working in Rhode Island for 15 years and I’ve never found housing below 30% of my income. Poverty is caused by the double exploitation we face from employers who won’t pay a living wage and landlords who won’t rent affordable housing,” said Olivia Bilodeau of Tenant Network RI, a tenant self-advocacy group.

The federal minimum wage has remained at $7.25 an hour without an increase since 2009, not keeping pace with the high cost of rental housing. In no state, even those where the minimum wage has been set above the federal standard, can a person earning minimum wage and working 40 hours a week afford a two-bedroom apartment at the average Fair Market Rent. 

In Rhode Island, a person earning the state’s minimum wage of $10.50 per hour must have 1.7 full-time jobs or work 67 hours per week to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment, and hold 2 full-time jobs or work 81 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom.

“The ever-widening gap between wages and the cost of housing is at the root of why on any given night, over 1,104 of our fellow Rhode Islanders will experience homelessness; by most estimates, 5,000-6,000 of our neighbors over the course of a year. That’s not changing, and, as Out of Reach clearly shows, it’s only getting worse,” said Caitlin Frumerie, Executive Director of Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless.

The typical renter in Rhode Island earns $14.21, which is $6.95 less than the hourly wage needed to afford a modest unit. The economic downturn spurred by the coronavirus further increased the risk of housing instability for millions of low-wage renters at a time when stable housing is vital. 

Millions of renters were one financial shock away from housing instability, and for many, the pandemic and economic fallout is that shock.

“Housing is a basic human need, but millions of people in America can’t afford a safe, stable home.” said Diane Yentel, NLIHC President and CEO. 

“The harm and trauma of this enduring challenge is laid bare during COVID-19, when millions of people in America risk losing their homes during a pandemic. The lack of affordable homes for the lowest-income people is one of our country’s most urgent and solvable challenges, during and after COVID-19; we lack only the political courage to fund the solutions at the scale necessary. It’s time for Congress to act.”

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