By PAULA McFARLAND I've lived in the same neighborhood in Cranston for the past 30 years. We bought our starter home in a "e;starter neighborhood"e; designed to be affordable for first-time house buyers. When we bought it, we paid $99,000. Today, most
I’ve lived in the same neighborhood in Cranston for the past 30 years. We bought our starter home in a “starter neighborhood” designed to be affordable for first-time house buyers. When we bought it, we paid $99,000. Today, most first-time homebuyers who are residents of Cranston can’t afford to buy here or anywhere else in our beloved community. According to the most recent data from the state’s Association of REALTORS, the average price for a home in Cranston is $290,000. It’s a price tag that is completely out of reach for far too many Rhode Islanders.
That needs to change.
Community is essential to quality of life and the bedrock of any strong economy. Unfortunately, over the past decade or two, a housing crisis has quietly taken root. Now, too many hardworking Rhode Islanders have been priced out of the American dream of homeownership. In Cranston, the median household income is $64,000. In Pawtucket, where I work, it’s $45,000. This simply isn’t enough to be a homeowner here. It makes it pretty tough to rent here, too.
In Rhode Island as a whole, our lack of affordable housing stock has made it nearly impossible for a family making $70,000 or less to buy a home in 35 out of the state’s 39 cities and towns, including Cranston. More than 35 percent of Rhode Island households are cost-burdened, meaning they are spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing. This high expense makes it difficult for working families to thrive, and in times of crisis like COVID-19, it threatens safety and security.
Currently, in my role as the Executive Director of the Pawtucket Housing Authority, I’m seeing firsthand how important investing in housing is during this crisis. We’ve all watched with deep sadness as COVID-19 spread through our congregate care centers and nursing homes, taking loved ones before their time. In Pawtucket, we’re working to renovate a building with walk-in showers, railings, pull cords, and the like so that more seniors have the option to age in place— safely at home. Without an affordable housing bond, we couldn’t provide the updated housing that the aging population needs. This need is just as pronounced in parts of Cranston.
We can solve this problem.
Governor Raimondo has proposed a housing bond and a modest, sustainable revenue stream to construct affordable housing in her FY2021 Budget Plan. These are smart investments for our state’s future. Recent housing bonds spurred investments in Cranston. Those investments created jobs and gave families across our city new hope.
Housing is an important indicator of the health of an economy. Investing in housing translates into jobs. Housing construction supports the building trades sector and economic growth, and it results in less strain on the healthcare system as people have access to decent, reliable, and safe homes. As we all deal with an international pandemic, the fact that housing equals healthcare is clearer today than ever. Research shows that access to housing can dramatically reduce health care costs.
I recognize that times are hard. I’m not trying to sugarcoat the current economic reality that’s emerged as a result of COVID-19. And we’re not going to just bounce back. It’s going to take hard work and difficult choices. Setting ourselves up for smart long-term economic prosperity means we can’t turn towards austerity. We need to make strategic investments in housing and infrastructure to propel ourselves towards recovery and a sustainable future where all Cranston residents—young and old—can prosper far beyond this year or the next. Tough times require tough choices. I ask our General Assembly to drive us toward a quicker, ongoing, and healthier recovery with investments in housing now.
Paula McFarland is the Executive Director of the Pawtucket Housing Authority. She has over 35 years of experience working in subsidized housing and development. She lives in Cranston’s Stadium Neighborhood.