PROVIDENCE – Recent historic increases in rents and home prices in Rhode Island have helped fuel a homelessness crisis – but collective action by government and community organizations can ease that crisis, which particularly impacts low- and moderate-income residents of the state.
So concludes “Housing Supply and Homelessness in Rhode Island,” an intensive study with recommendations led by the Rhode Island Foundation and released on Monday.
“Housing is an urgent need in Rhode Island,” states the study, which runs to more than 180 pages and was two months in the making. “The Ocean State faces challenges both in making enough affordable housing supply available for its residents and in providing services to those residents who have become unsheltered.
“Rhode Island faces a housing supply shortage which has led to a state-wide affordability challenge. The state has historically underinvested in housing, resulting in one of the slowest per capita rates of housing production in the country and one of the oldest sets of housing stock. This shortage is particularly acute for lower-and middle-income Rhode Islanders, who struggle to access housing that is affordable to them in any part of the state…
“Unsheltered homelessness in Rhode Island has grown about 56% since 2020, the second highest growth rate across states. Hundreds of Ocean State residents are unsheltered; more than a thousand require emergency shelter at some point each year; and thousands are housing insecure. Homelessness must remain a key focus area for policymakers moving forward.”
Among the key recommendations:
● Regulatory reform that would ease zoning changes and permitting processes, allowing for increased housing production.
● State tax credits for developers of low-income housing.
● “Mobilizing the business community” by means of “private-public partnerships.”
● As an immediate step to address homelessness, the study urgers creation of “additional physical capacity, for both temporary shelters and permanent supportive housing.” Also, expansion of “homelessness prevention” by expanding legal services for tenants facing eviction, among other measures.
● Longer-term steps to address homelessness include strengthening the “service provider ecosystem,” those organizations and state departments that provide behavioral healthcare and other help for needy individuals. Also, working with correctional facilities “to support transition into housing.”
A press release accompanying publication of the report described the scope of the effort:
“Under the guidance of a steering committee consisting of funding partners Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, the Partnership for Rhode Island and Rhode Island LISC — and with staff support from the United Way of Rhode Island — the effort engaged a wide range of stakeholders, including key providers and leaders in the homelessness and housing sectors; around housing strategy, development, finance and organizational design across the private, public and social service sectors. The work was done in collaboration with, and in support of, the state Department of Housing.”