Climate & Social Justice

Draft Reports Shows Providence’s Dire Need for Affordable Housing

Providence lacks affordable housing, especially on the city’s East Side. (Frank Carini/ecoRI News)

PROVIDENCE — A little over a year ago, the city’s Department of Planning and Development partnered with RKG Associates Inc., a Boston-based economic consultant, to create an Anti-Displacement and Comprehensive Housing Strategy report. Little did they know, however, a pandemic would exacerbate what was already a dire situation for many residents.

“The need for safe, secure, affordable housing has never been more clear or urgent as it is right now,” said Martina Haggerty, associate director of special projects for the Department of Planning and Development.

In a Jan. 14 virtual meeting, Haggerty and principal planner Jessica Pflaumer went through the report’s most recent iteration, which is currently open for public comment.

The points Pflaumer touched upon paint a picture of a city that is in dire need of more affordable housing.

Here are some takeaways from Pflaumer’s presentation:

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the area median income (AMI) for four-person households in the Providence-Fall River, Mass., region is $81,900 annually.

Fifty-six percent of renter households in Providence make less than 50 percent of the AMI. In contrast, more than 50 percent of rental units are priced for households earning above the 50 percent AMI threshold.

“So we know that there is a gap between what Providence residents can afford and what is available on the market today,” Pflaumer said. “We know that all proposed non-subsidized housing units … are priced above the 120 percent AMI threshold, with only 12 percent of proposed units projected to be price controlled.”

One statistic presented by Pflaumer was particularly shocking: In order to meet affordable housing demands, Providence would need to build 850 units each year for the next 10 years. That’s a lot of units, and the number at the end of that 10-year tunnel is $2,250,000,000.

“It’s estimated that we would need 225 million dollars annually,” Pflaumer said. “We’re not saying that the city is going to be able to identify that much money, but working with private partners and developers, as well as nonprofit partners, we can identify new financing structures and new funds to help us meet that need.”

The current rate of creation of price-appropriate rental and ownership units is lagging. During the past 10 years, 1,850 new housing units were made available. That’s about 185 a year, or roughly 22 percent of what is needed annually in the next decade. In short, at the current pace there is no way Providence would meet these goals.

Ninety percent of affordable units in development are in the Broad Street, Elmwood Avenue, Olneyville and Hartford Avenue areas.

“We are looking at providing rental and ownership housing choice opportunities for Providence residents of all incomes throughout all city neighborhoods,” Pflaumer said. “This means promoting more affordable housing developments in high-opportunity neighborhoods throughout the city, so neighborhoods with good transportation options, job accessibility, parks, grocery stores, those kinds of amenities.”

In addition to reviewing what is needed, the 178-page draft report also details some suggested changes and solutions to the issues at hand. Among them are a variety of zoning updates, as well as requirements and incentives for developers to adhere to a universal design, various housing voucher programs, and expanded tenant advocacy and support.

Public input on the draft report will be accepted until Jan. 19. The final report is expected to be released later this winter.

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