Affordable Housing Research in New Shoreham’s Block Island, Rhode Island

Summer 2021

New Shoreham has the distinction of being the smallest town in the smallest state. The municipality encompasses the entire geographic area of Block Island, an island of just under 10 square miles located approximately 12 miles south of mainland Rhode Island across Block Island Sound.  During warmer months, an influx of tourists and seasonal vacationers displaces year-round residents from their homes, whose rent costs fluctuate wildly from month-to-month.  Year-round residents, including service workers, teachers, firefighters, police officers and others, who are essential to the operations of the community, lack affordable housing options, oftentimes ending up in tenement housing or even their cars for shelter. This story, one that is concentrated and acute on Block Island, serves as a microcosm for a widespread phenomenon across the United states – the precarity of lower income essential sectors and their displacement and distanciation due to a tourist economy and poor rent control.

The Block Island Housing Board has been working through this conundrum for some time, and has recently acquired a coveted piece of land slated for affordable housing.  Design challenges and logistics are unique on the island.  Concrete foundations are financially prohibitive due to the island’s geological composition, and transporting construction materials by boat is expensive.  There is pressure to adhere to the island’s aesthetic vernacular, and to maintain its sprawling landscape with small houses delicately dotted throughout.  There is pushback from wealthier year-round residents who preemptively understand affordable housing as unsightly and antithetical to the spirit of the place.  In a word, it’s complicated.

Our team worked with the Housing Board to develop a research booklet which could contribute to the design and development of their 1.2 acre property.  The booklet is a compilation of the research our team collected while visiting the island, and includes overviews of environmental factors, zoning information, documentation of existing affordable housing on Block Island, site analysis, vernacular information, and diagrams outlining a preliminary design approach.

Community Partners
Block Island Housing Board (BIHB)

Student Team
Autumn Bender
Miranda Bibb 
Maya Fraser 
Evan Hotary 
Maho Kobayashi 
John Li
Zoe Meinke
Celia Olsen

Faculty Mentors
Anya Sirota
Jacob Comerci

To access our research, visit this link.
For more information about the Block Island Housing Board, visit this link.