“I wouldn’t be able to afford housing without my Housing Choice Voucher,” said Wendy Thomas. “Passing source of income discrimination protections would mean that searching for a new place to live is not a cause for panic and fear that I’ll end up homeless again.”
Ahead of a Providence City Council Ordinance Committee meeting to hear an ordinance introduced by Councilmember Rachel Miller (Ward 13) to ban discrimination in housing based on source of income, advocates and community members gathered outside City Council Chambers on the third floor of Providence City Hall to talk about the importance of the legislation.
“Generally speaking, the high cost of housing keeps our neighbors from having a place to live,” said Councilmember Miller. “Here you have individuals and families who can afford the rent, but they’re being told that their legal source of income is no good. We’re forcing our neighbors into homelessness. The ordinance I’ve introduced will make this kind of discrimination illegal.”
Miller’s legislation does not simply address section 8 housing vouchers but many sources of income that people use to secure stable housing, including veteran’s benefits, spousal childcare payments, and more. For section 8 housing vouchers, many households wait years to receive such income supports, and are then forced to give up this income if they cannot find a place to rent.
Noel Sanchez, a local landlord, explained the benefits of accepting section 8 housing vouchers:
“I feel as though with this bill passing everybody that’s getting legal tenure, no matter how low their income, will be enabled to get into an apartment of their choice.” explained Malchus Mills, leader of DARE’s Tenant and Homeowner Association and Vice Chair of DARE’s Board of Directors.
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Statewide source of income protection is part of a set of legislative priorities being advocated this session at the Rhode Island General Assembly by Homes RI, a coalition of organizations working together to increase access to affordable homes across Rhode Island. Currently, only 16 states plus 76 counties and municipalities ban housing discrimination based on source of income; New Hampshire and Rhode Island are the only New England states that permit this discrimination.
“Everything that’s worth something comes along with a fight,” said Representative Anastasia Williams (Democrat, District 9, Providence) wh has introduced similar legislation in the State House of Representatives, which failed to get out of committee last year. Housing, said Representative Williams, “is a fundamental right for everyone.”
Senator Harold Metts (Democrat, District 6, Providence) has introduced similar legislation in the Senate, which passed last year.
“I wouldn’t be able to afford housing without my Housing Choice Voucher,” said Wendy Thomas, a member of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless Voice of Homelessness Speakers Bureau. “Passing source of income discrimination protections would mean that searching for a new place to live is not a cause for panic and fear that I’ll end up homeless again. I hope the City Council passes this and the General Assembly follows suit.”
“A renter in RI must earn over $58,000 per year (over $70,000 per year in Providence) to comfortably afford a 2-bedroom apartment,” said Caitlin Frumerie, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless. “So transitioning from homelessness to housing would be virtually impossible without federal and/or state income supports. Banning source of income discrimination is a critical step foward in preventing and ending homelessness.”
At the Ordinance Committee meeting there was vigorous discussion of the ordinance, but the bill was held pending further study and more information from stakeholders. Committee Chair Joann Ryan (Ward 5) told UpriseRI that, she “thinks it will pass in some form, I just everyone to have an opportunity to fully vet it so we come up with something that makes sense for everybody.”
Providence City Council President Sabina Matos (Ward 15) said that the intention of the Providence City Council “is to move forward as soon as possible.”
Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza is eager to sign the legislation, saying in a statement that he is “disappointed that the City Council Committee on Ordinances failed to move this important ordinance out of committee and to the full City Council for a vote. I call on them to send me an ordinance that protects our voucher holders so that I can sign it into law.”
Here’s the full video of the Providence City Council Ordinance Committee meeting:
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