Housing Report Supports Push to Approve Question 7

Published in Woonsocket Call on October 30, 2016

Earlier this year, Rhode Island Housing (RIH) released a 44 -page report detailing the Ocean State’s current and future housing needs. One thing was clear to those attending this event: over the next decade the state will need more affordable housing for its residents.

Over the last 7 months, RIH’s Executive Director Barbara Fields has crisscrossed the Ocean State calling for increased housing opportunities for working Rhode Islanders. During this period of time she has presented the study’s findings to more than a dozen civic and government groups, including AARP Rhode Island, the Providence City Council and United Way.

During the last legislative session Rhode Island housing advocates were successful in their push for the enactment of a bond initiative that would make a significant state investment in affordable housing. As part of the omnibus statewide budget package, a $50 million Housing Opportunity Bond initiative for housing programs was passed by the House and Senate chambers, ultimately to be signed into law by Governor Gina Raimondo (D) and put to voter approval on the November ballot.

With the November election fast approaching, Fields has not let her report, compiled by HousingWorks RI, a research program at Rogers Williams University, sit on a dusty shelf but is using it to push for passage of the housing bond initiatives.

RIH Releases its Comprehensive Housing Study

On April 6, Fields gathered with state housing advocacy groups at the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation to unveil RIH’s landmark housing study, Projecting Future Housing Needs. Fields warned that the state’s economic comeback must be tied to new and existing housing that stays within the financial reach of Rhode Islanders. “Today in Rhode Island, the demand for housing is high while the supply is much too low. This imbalance simply makes the cost of housing too expensive for what our residents earn. This report provides critical insight into what the future needs of Rhode Islanders will be and that information will allow us to develop a plan to address those needs,” she said.

At this event, Rhode Island Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor tied adequate housing for working Rhode Islanders as key to bringing businesses to the Ocean State. “Companies looking to expand or relocate consider how well they will be able to retain and attract their workforce, and a key part of doing so is ensuring that employees of all income levels have high quality housing opportunities,” said Pryor. “It’s vital to our state’s economic success and our quality of life that we preserve and produce high quality housing options for our residents,” he added.

The RIH report’s findings indicate that Rhode Island’s population is projected to grow between 3 and 5 percent from 2015 to 2025. Researchers warn that new housing demand will outpace population growth, and anticipate a 12 to 13 percent increase in the number of households, driven by a growing population and simultaneous decline in household size tied to both lower birth rates and an aging population. Researchers also predict housing demand will be driven by a large population growth in two demographic groups that tend to have lower incomes – namely aging baby boomers and seniors and young millennials.

According to the RIH report, cost burden problems of paying rent do not just impact older Rhode Islanders and Millennials, but have become more mainstream issues over the last ten years and now affect all income brackets. The findings found that Rhode Islanders already pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs, and that more than half of the increase in cost burden from 2000 to 2012 impacted households earning more than $57,700.

From 2000 to 2014, the researchers found that the state’s total population grew marginally at 0.11 percent, but the number of households grew by 0.28 percent. Rhode Island’s smaller household sizes are due, in part, to a larger proportion of older persons and a smaller proportion of persons of color when compared to national rates. Younger households are likely to have more people than those headed by people aged 65 and older, primarily because they are more likely to be family households with children. As this demographic shift continues, the future population will need more housing units to meet the increased household need caused by smaller household sizes typical of older householders.

Pushing for Passage of Question 7

Like Fields, Chris Hunter, campaign manager for the Yes On 7 Campaign, sees the RIH report’s findings as crucial information that voters need to know about the impending housing crisis. “As Rhode Island Housing’s recent report shows, we’re simply not creating enough new housing to meet projected population growth. At the same time we’re facing an affordability crunch as our young workers just starting their careers, families, veterans, and seniors are having a difficult time paying for housing while also making ends meet,” says Hunter.

“That’s why Question 7 and the $50 million Housing Opportunity bond is such a smart investment in housing and Rhode Island’s economy,” says Hunter, stressing that if approved by the voters the $50 million bond initiative will leverage an additional $160 million in federal and private investments.

According to Hunter, if approved, $40 million of the bond dollars will be allocated to the construction of affordable homes and apartments across Rhode Island, while the remaining $10 million will be used to help cities and towns revitalize blighted and foreclosed properties. The bond will also fund the construction of 800 affordable homes and apartments across Rhode Island and create 1,700 good paying local construction jobs.

Over 60 percent of Rhode Island voters passed housing bond initiatives in put on the ballot in 2006 ($50 million) and 2012 ($25 million), says Hunter. “Funding from these last two affordable housing bonds created 1,943 affordable units in 30 communities around the state, and leveraged more than $300 million in federal and private investment in these projects,” he says.

RIH‘s housing report has sounded the alarm, giving a stark warning to local and state officials that a housing crisis exists and will only get worse with the shifting of the state’s demographics. With the election looming, RIH’s Fields continues to push for passage on Question 7. Hunter works to mobilize his housing advocates and supporters of Question 7 to get the word out to every voter in Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns that this bond initiative must be passed. Hopefully, their message will get across to Rhode Island voters. We’ll see when the votes are counted.

For more details on Question 7, visit http://www.yeson7ri.com.

Herb Weiss, LRI’12 is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.

New Report Warns of Nation’s Housing Not Meeting Needs of Older Adults

Published in Pawtucket Times, on September 12, 2014

In the coming decades, America’s aging population is expected to skyrocket, but the nation is not ready to confront the housing needs of those age 50 and over, warns a new report released last week by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies and AARP Foundation. While it is expected that the number of adults in the U.S. aged 50 and over is expected to grow to 133 million by 2030, an increase of more than 70 percent since 2000, housing that is affordable, physically accessible, well-located, and coordinated with supports and services is in too short supply, says the Harvard report released on Sept. 2.

According to Harvard Report, Housing America’s Older Adults – Meeting the Needs of An Aging Population, housing stock is critical to quality of life for people of all ages, but especially for aging baby boomers and seniors.  High housing costs currently force a third of adults 50 and over—including 37 percent of those 80 and over—to pay more than 30 percent of their income for homes that may or may not fit their needs, forcing them to cut back on food, health care, and, for those 50-64, retirement savings.

 Challenges and Issues

The Harvard report also noted that much of the nation’s housing stock lacks basic accessibility features (such as no-step entries, extra-wide doorways and lever-style door and faucet handles, and insufficient lighting, preventing older persons with disabilities from living safely and comfortably at home. Moreover, walkways, bike lanes, buses, subways, and other public transportation are not available to a majority of older adults who live in suburban and rural locations.  They become isolated from family and friends without the ability to drive.   Finally, disconnects between housing programs and the health care system put many older adults with disabilities or long-term care needs at risk of premature, costly institutionalization and readmission to hospitals.

“Recognizing the implications of this profound demographic shift and taking immediate steps to address these issues is vital to our national standard of living,” says Chris Herbert, acting managing director of the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies. “While it is ultimately up to individuals and their families to plan for future housing needs, it is also incumbent upon policy makers at all levels of government to see that affordable, appropriate housing, as well as supports for long-term aging in the community, are available for older adults across the income spectrum.”

*Tackling the Challenges

“What jumped out at us from this study is that when it comes to where people want to live as they age, the ‘field of view,’ if you will, has very quickly widened. People today are thinking about this at a younger age with expectations that are vastly different from their parents’ assumptions,” observes AARP State Director Kathleen Connell. “Most people are worried that retirement savings will not cover their long-term needs. They want housing that is affordable, physically accessible and well-located. But they also realize that, eventually, they’ll need coordination with supports and services. The challenges have never been more evident.

“There are many ways to approach this, with choosing healthier lifestyles very high on the list. But the report makes it clear that where we live matters,” Connell continued. “Growing older in car-dependent suburban and rural locations is a real problem because pedestrian infrastructure is generally unfriendly if you have stopped driving. That leads to isolation, which can severely compound just about any negative that comes with aging. And if access to the health care system is restricted, many older adults – especially those with disabilities – are candidates for more costly premature institutionalization. We need to pre-empt that cycle by building communities where people can better age in place

The Harvard report notes that the older population in the U.S. will continue to exponentially grow with the large number of younger baby boomers who are now in their 50s. With lower incomes, wealth, homeownership rates, and more debt than generations before them, members of this large age group may be unable to cover the costs of appropriate housing or long-term care in their retirement years.

Indeed, while a majority of people over 45 would like to stay in their current residences as long as possible, estimates indicate that 70 percent of those who reach the age of 65 will eventually need some form of long-term care. In this regard, older homeowners are in a better position than older renters when they retire. The typical homeowner age 65 and over has enough wealth to cover the costs of in-home assistance for nearly nine years or assisted living for 6 and half years. The typical renter, however, can only afford two months of these supports.

“As Americans age, the need for safe and affordable housing options becomes even more critical,” says Lisa Marsh Ryerson, President of the AARP Foundation. “High housing costs, aging homes, and costly repairs can greatly impact those with limited incomes. The goal in our support of this report is to address the most critical needs of these households and it is AARP Foundation’s aim to provide the tools and resources to help them meet these needs now and in the future.”

Making Your Community Livable

Even with this alarming report that calls on policy makers to confront the looming housing crisis for the nation’s old, a large majority of aging boomers have not reached the age where their housing needs become a serious problem.  For those choosing to age in place in their community they can plan ahead to improve their future housing options.

“AARP is committed to this because we know it’s what most people want. That’s why we encourage residents to participate in how streets, roads, sidewalks, crosswalks are designed as well as make their thoughts known on decisions regarding access to recreational space.”

On Sept. 19, AARP Rhode Island will host an Active Living Workshop at Kirkbrae Country Club in Lincoln. Nationally recognized expert Dan Burden will lead the event, which will focus on proposed improvements along New River Road in Lincoln – specifically in the village of Manville. Representatives of the RI Department of Transportation will be on hand to discuss the project and hear suggestions to make this neighborhood more walkable. Mr. Burden will conduct a sidewalks and streets survey, followed by a discussion. The one day event, involving both a classroom style session and a community walking audit, is free and includes breakfast and lunch. You can sign up by logging on to www. aarp.org/ri. Or, you can call Deborah Miller at 401-248-2654.

According to AARP Rhode Island, the goals of this bring together residents, government and elected officials to promote a shared language.

Groups invited to participate include Lincoln town officials, Lincoln Senior Services, the Bicycle Coalition, the Lincoln Police Department, the Blackstone Valley Tourism Council, GrowSmart, the RI Department of Health and the Northern RI Chamber of Commerce.

To access Housing America’s Older Adults – Meeting the Needs of An Aging Population, go to http://www.jchs.harvard.edu/housing-americas-older-adults-embargoed.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.