Poverty rates rise in Smithfield

Poverty rates rise in Smithfield

Housing less affordable to average homeowner

SMITHFIELD – Research from the Smithfield Planning Board’s consultant firm, the Horsley Witten Group, showed an increase in poverty rates and federal assistance in town over the last eight years.

Jeff Davis of Horsely Witten last week presented initial findings from research into the town’s housing stock finding that average housing prices are increasing faster than the average homeowner’s income.

During the May 20 Planning Board meeting, Davis warned the Planning Board that the town’s rising cost in homes may soon become out of reach to the average homeowner.

From 2010 to 2018, Davis found poverty rates in Smithfield increased to 4.4 percent from 3.7 percent. He said Smithfield’s poverty rate is still much lower than the state’s, which is 13 percent.

During the same time period, Davis found the rate of federal assistance programs and SNAP enrollment increased “significantly” in Smithfield. While the rate of 6.7 percent of residents enrolled in SNAP is less than the state overall, at 15 percent, the percentage in 2010 was 2.6 percent.

“That’s up like 173 percent in just an eight-year period,” Davis said.

At the same time, Davis said he is seeing households in Smithfield spending more of their income on housing. He said approximately 25 percent are spending the accepted 30 percent of income on housing.

“Ten percent are spending more than 50 percent (of income) on housing,” he said.

Davis said Smithfield was doing well on housing for a long time, with construction rates at their peak between the 1960s and 1980s. Housing costs recovered from the 2008 recession, he said, and have risen consistently since 2010.

Davis said the median sales price on an average home in Smithfield is only “slightly higher” than what average households can afford. He said the average single-family home is $311,000 in Smithfield.

“If this trend continues, the average home could be further out of reach for the average homeowner in Smithfield,” he said.

Davis said the growing numbers of people struggling financially seem to be among existing residents, and is not coming about due to people moving in from elsewhere. He said people who live in Smithfield tend to stay in Smithfield.

Davis said his research is meant to take a closer look at the town’s low- to moderate-income housing, or LMI, plan. The town has reached 5.09 percent of the state-mandated 10 percent LMI housing.

There were 7,845 housing units in Smithfield as of the 2010 Census, and 8,166 units as of the 2018 American Community Survey. He expects more units to be shown by the 2020 Census.

Davis said at 5.09 percent, the town is right in the middle of the pack compared to LMI percentages in other Rhode Island cities and towns.

LMI housing refers to housing that is subsidized and deed-restricted for no less than 30 years to ensure long-term accessibility for those with low and and moderate incomes. The amount varies, and is typically around 80 percent of non-subsidized costs.