Woonsocket and East Providence will receive nearly $2.4 million in federal grants to help revitalize local neighborhoods and increase affordable housing. The grants were announced on Sunday by Rhode Island's U.S. senators, Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse.
Woonsocket is slated to receive the bulk of the money: more than $1.2 million from the Community Development Block Grant program. East Providence will receive nearly $700,000.
The grants come on the heels of a report that shows the availability of affordable housing remains a chronic problem in Rhode Island, and it may be getting worse, at least by some measures.
The 2017 Housing Fact Book, released last week by HousingWorks RI at Roger Williams University, found recent increases in home prices and rents reduced the number of municipalities where lower-income residents can find affordable housing.
As defined by the federal government, affordable housing means housing that costs 30 percent or less of a family's gross income.
By that measure, according to HousingWorks RI, there is no housing in the state that would be affordable for residents making $30,000 a year or less. And if you make $50,000 or less, it’s not much better.
"If you're under $50,000, you can afford to own in two communities: Central Falls and Providence (excluding the East Side)," said Brenda Clement, Director of HousingWorks RI. "Your choices are a little better if you're looking to rent. You can afford to rent in about six communities, but that's down from 11 communities in 2015."
In 2004, Rhode Island directed cities and towns to work toward a goal of making at least 10 percent of housing affordable, under an amendment to the RI Low and Moderate Income Act. But Clement said municipalities have been slow to reach that goal.
"Only 5 of the 39 municipalities have achieved or exceeded that goal: Central Falls, Newport, New Shoreham, Providence and Woonsocket," said Clement. "So we know it's got a ways to go."
Clement cites a legislative commission convened to study the Low and Moderate Income Housing Act, which is expected to continue its work next year, "to see what incentives or requirements we may add or strengthen to that act, to work in concert with communities to get closer to these housing goals."
Ultimately, says Clement, housing and affordable housing "are something that we all share, and that we all need to work towards the solutions for."