2017-11-02 / Around Town

Newport Second in State in Low- or Moderate-Income Housing

By Bob Rulli

A recently released housing report for Rhode Island shows that Newport is second only to Woonsocket in the percentage of residents who are classified as low- or moderate-income.

According to the report by Rhode Island Housing, a privately funded public purpose corporation created by the General Assembly in 1973, in 2016 nearly 15.5 percent of all housing units in Newport were dedicated to low- or moderate-income individuals, slightly lower than Woonsocket’s 15.90 percent. In contrast, Middletown was at 5.4 percent, Jamestown at 4.39 percent and Portsmouth at 2.83 percent.

Newport City Councilwoman Kate Leonard has often spoken out on the issue of housing and the need for affordable units to be spread across the entire state. When asked about the information in the Rhode Island Housing report she said, "I question their numbers, I have been told that Newport has the highest amount of affordable housing in Rhode Island.”

Rhode Island dictates that 10 percent of municipal housing stock be for those in low- or moderate-income brackets. As of 2016, Newport was at 17 percent. The majority of those units are in Newport Heights, Bayside Village, Broadway West,

Festival Field, Rolling Green Village, and Park Holm, where units are being built as replacement housing for those units demolished due to age and to decrease the density of the neighborhood.

The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) defines low-income households as those whose income does not exceed 80 percent of the median income for the area, with adjustments for smaller or larger families. HUD defines moderate-income households as those whose incomes are between 81 percent and 95 percent of the median income for the area.

A separate report released by HousingWorksRI at Roger Williams University presents a more in-depth survey of area housing statistics and trends. According to the report, 41 percent of Newport residents own their home, while 59 percent rent. In Middletown, the percentage of homeowners versus renters is 53-47. Both communities fall short of the statewide average of 60 percent ownership versus 40 percent renters. Even at 60 percent, Rhode Island has the lowest rate of homeownership in New England, and ranks 46th nationally.

The 2017 Housing Fact Book report, by HousingWorksRI, serves as a clearinghouse of information about housing affordability in Rhode Island, connecting that information with what residents have on economic development, education, and health.

The book offers a number of facts on housing ownership and rental. For example, 58 percent of the housing inventory in Newport is multifamily, compared to 36 percent in Middletown. The state average is 44 percent. Middletown exceeds the state average of 56 percent in the number of single-family homes, at 64 percent, with Newport at 42 percent.

Across the state, HousingWorksRI reports that Central Falls and Providence (excluding the East Side of the city) are the only two municipalities where households with income under $50,000 can find affordable housing; housing is considered affordable when a household spends 30 percent or less of its income on housing costs. In Newport, where the average rent of a two-bedroom apartment or home is $1,508, a household would need an annual income of $60,320 to meet the affordability threshold. In Middletown, where the average rent is $1,407, a household would need an annual income of $56,280.

The median single-family home price in Newport is $446,500, which translates to an annual household income of $113,419 to be affordable, while in Middletown the median price is $352,500, with $95,815 being the threshold of annual household income.

With discussions ongoing about attracting new businesses to land that will be available for development after the Pell Bridge realignment is complete, along with what some see as the difficulty in getting on and off Aquidneck Island, housing will continue to be a major influencing factor for new businesses, but perhaps for education as well. Leonard said, “we have 140 affordable units under construction in Park Holm, and I have concerns what additional impact that will have on our schools.”

Contributions by B. Udoma

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