“There’s no question that this crisis has hit the hardest those who are least able to weather it,” said Governor Raimondo when announcing the new funding. “[People] living in poverty, living paycheck to paycheck, being sick or having health issues, are foremost in my my every minute of every day.“
At Thursday’s daily COVID-19 press briefing, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo announced that the state will be making available an additional $5 million in funding for the Housing Help RI emergency rental assistance fund. This money is available to lower income renters who have been impacted by the COVID-19 emergency and are at immediate risk of homelessness. Those who qualify can receive a grant of up to $5,000 to support past due rent payments and other fees.
To access these funds, go to HousingHelpRI.com or call 211.
During Governor Raimondo’s press conference, Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) and Tenant Network RI were holding a rally to call for an eviction moratorium outside.
“There’s no question that this crisis has hit the hardest those who are least able to weather it,” said Governor Raimondo when announcing the new funding. “[People] living in poverty, living paycheck to paycheck, being sick or having health issues, are foremost in my my every minute of every day.”
Governor Raimondo had previously committed $1.5 million to the fund.
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“For those of you who are anxious about paying your rent, we want to do more to help,” said the governor. “So three weeks ago I announced a $1.5 million rental assistance fund. I’m very pleased to say that fund has supported hundreds of families in need. But that fund was quickly depleted and didn’t get to everyone who needed it.”
Evictions in Rhode Island are scheduled to resume in District Court on June 1. Governor Raimondo said that the court will work through its backlog of evictions filed before the COVID-19 crisis started on March 17.
“I have asked the court and they’ve agreed, they’ve assured me that they will not process any COVID related convictions before July 1,” said the governor. “In the month of June the courts will be dealing with evictions initiated prior to COVID, prior to March 17. But if you lost your job after March 17 due to the COVID crisis, do not worry about being evicted in the month of June.”
Governor Raimondo further announced that she will be working with the United Way and other stakeholders to develop a “mediation initiative.”
“There are two sides of this equation and we want make sure that landlords get paid,” said the governor. “They are running a business and they have a stake in this also, so we’re going to be working over the next couple of weeks… to come up with an initiative where we try to mediate so we can help landlords get what’s owed to them but also puts folks on a longer term payment plan so they don’t get evicted, don’t become homeless and we don’t add to the economic suffering we’re already seeing so much of in Rhode Island right now.”
Details on what that mediated solution will look like will be coming from the Governor in a “few weeks.”
“This looks good but people need to look closer,” said Kristina Contreras Fox, Senior Policy Analyst at the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless. “Now is not the time for pats on the back. Evictions will be happening again in a few days, and that means very soon scores of Rhode Islanders will become homeless during a literal pandemic. More funding for rental assistance is great, but is that amount enough? Absolutely not. People have lost loved ones, lost jobs and businesses due to this virus. Now hundreds, even thousands stand to lose their housing. They need more help than a small bucket of resources tied up in red tape.
“I would love to see our state be as bold in their actions to end homelessness as they have been to reopen restaurants and beaches.”
UpriseRI asked a series of follow up questions:
UpriseRI: About the $5 million dollars for rental assistance: Some estimates say that the state may need as much as $20 million to cover rents from April to June. Montana, which has a similar population to Rhode Island, put $50 million in CARES Act dollars into their rental fund. And the Eviction Lab at Princeton University rates Rhode Island’s response to the COVID-19 eviction crisis at near zero, whereas Massachusetts and Connecticut both have four stars. Are we doing enough?
Raimondo: Let me say a few things. The numbers we have are not as high as what you just said, $20 million. They’re certainly higher than five or six and a half, and as I’ve said, this is an immediate next step. I think the right long term step is a broader program where we can come up to a mediated solution, and so that’s what we’re going to do. Where going to work with United Way, we’re going to work with the courts. I’m very open to using more of the COVID relief funds to address the issue, but I don’t think the right thing right now is to just put a lot of money into it because what I worry about, is you do that, and it gets people to the end of June, and then what?
So I hear you. It is an issue. I am committed to it. This is a one month solution and we’re going to come up with a longer term solution.
UpriseRI: Speaking about mediated solutions, right now in the District Court there’s no right to a lawyer for tenants. So would we be looking at that?
Raimondo: Yes. So to be successful the mediated solution would have to have a few components. It would have to have a lawyer for tenants, the judiciary would have to be at the table, and we would have to have some uniformity with how we dealt with all of this.
UpriseRI: At the District Court Work Group that met to discuss evictions, there were no tenants or landlords. The Work Group was entirely judges and lawyers who work evictions. So there were no advocacy groups involved in the court’s decision as to how reopening evictions should proceed.
Raimondo: We’re in touch with the United Way, with advocates, with Crossroads, if you have folks that you know want to be at the table then let us know. I have no interest to cut anybody out.
UpriseRI: One last question on homelessness. We know that funds to place homeless people in hotels runs out on Sunday. Will there be a renewal on that?
Raimondo: Yes, the answer is yes.
Brett Smiley, Raimondo’s Chief of Staff: The program that we’ve had in place for temporary housing for Rhode Islanders experiencing homelessness – As a strategy there’s two different pieces to the puzzle and I don’t want to confuse the two – the quarantining and isolating of housing insecure Rhode Islanders that’s been taking place at the Wyndham, that is an open ended commitment and that was not scheduled to end.
There were additional hotel facilities made available to help de-densify the shelters and that was previously scheduled to wrap up on May 31. We have extended that for 30 days, to June 30 and the advocates have worked together on a transition plan.
Unfortunately we know that helping to de-densify the shelters through hotels is not a long term solution and it is not a sustainable solution. So we’ve worked hard with the advocates to come up with a plan that they need to execute over the next 30 days. We’ve given them that extension so that they have a little bit more runway so that we can make sure that not everyone who is currently housed in a hotel goes back into a shelter.