Connecting state and local government leaders
Rhode Island is the one of the latest states to announce a targeted housing database designed to connect families to low- and moderate-income units.
As the affordable housing crisis drags on, it can take renters weeks or months to parse through online listings and find a unit that suits their needs—and that they can afford. The challenge is even greater for low-income households or those who rely on housing vouchers to sift through online listings for homes that won’t burden their budgets. But new databases developed in partnership with cities and states are keeping the needs of income-restricted households front and center.
Rhode Island is one of the latest states to launch such a website. Rhode Island Housing, the state’s housing finance authority, announced earlier this week a revamped housing database that offers users tools, resources and targeted search options for finding affordable rentals.
In addition to seeing market-rate listings, HousingSearchRI users can look specifically for units that are restricted to households earning less than $57,350, or 80% of the state’s median income, which in Rhode Island is about $74,200 for a single person. The new site includes a rent calculator to help people find units that cost no more than 30% of their household’s income, a threshold that is often used to define affordable housing.
“Too many families already face barriers to accessing a home that’s affordable,” said Carol Ventura, executive director of Rhode Island Housing in a statement Wednesday. “Finding basic information on available units throughout our state and how to apply shouldn’t be one of them.”
On the section of the site featuring low- and moderate-income housing, there are more than 12,000 units listed across nearly 250 developments, according to Christine Hunsinger, Rhode Island Housing’s chief strategy and innovation officer. Many of the listings link directly to applications, which saves users the hassle of going to each developer’s website to search for applications, she added. HousingSearchRI also provides information about amenities offered at different developments and relevant information for population-specific housing, including rentals for seniors and people with disabilities. The new site aims to aggregate as much information as possible in one place, streamlining users’ housing search process.
A version of the site has existed since 2018, but last year the state’s general assembly approved legislation that required the authority to expand the site to include more tools and information about affordable housing. The revamped site launched in late June.
The new database has garnered a lot of attention, and even crashed briefly due to high traffic, Hunsinger said. As more users share feedback and the site evolves, the agency plans to continue adding features and tools to the database.
“It'll be just as useful—if not more so—than Zillow,” she said.
While perhaps one of the newest such databases, the Ocean State’s is certainly not the first. Emphasys Software, the vendor behind Rhode Island’s site, has created “housing locators” in more than two dozen states, some of which focus on specific counties or municipalities rather than the full state. Nonprofits and cities are also developing their own portals that focus on subsidized housing. Last year, for instance, Detroit launched Detroit Home Connect to help users who qualify for subsidized housing find homes.