“Eviction endangers the publics’ health during this ongoing pandemic and declared state of emergency,” said Jennifer Wood, Director of the Rhode Island Center for Justice, a member of Homes RI. “We need an immediate moratorium on evictions and foreclosures to protect the publics’ health and prevent a mortgage foreclosure crisis even bigger than the devastating 2008-2009 crisis.“
Rhode Island Senator William Conley Jr (Democrat, District 18, East Providence, Pawtucket) and Representative Grace Diaz (Democrat, District 11, Providence) will introduce legislation that would implement a moratorium on evictions and mortgage foreclosures during a declared state of emergency and would establish an eviction diversion mediation program within the Rhode Island District Court.
The proposed legislation comes at a time when evictions are projected to spike locally and nationally. The federal unemployment benefit keeping many households financially afloat expired at the end of July, as did a federal moratorium on evictions and mortgage foreclosures that was protecting up to 30% of Rhode Island renters and homeowners. A national research report released August 7 estimates over 100,000 Rhode Islanders could be displaced by the end of 2020. A May report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston estimated that 13% of Rhode Island homeowners with a mortgage were at risk of missing a monthly housing payment.
“During a time when the consequences of losing your home can be so devastating for your health and the health of others, we must protect Rhode Islanders from eviction and foreclosure while we are all experiencing this declared critical emergency,” said Senator Conley.
The projected increase in evictions and foreclosures compounds the challenges of an extremely tight housing market in Rhode Island. With residential housing production at historic lows, lack of a dedicated revenue stream to build long-term affordable homes, and depressed wages, it was already difficult for people to find a safe and decent place to live. The economic downturn spurred by the coronavirus further increased the risk of housing instability for thousands of Rhode Island renters and homeowners, at a time when it has never been more clear that stable housing is healthcare. Public health requirements during this pandemic make it unacceptable for thousands of Rhode Island families to be displaced, due to the risk of exposure and illness for those families and for the public. Existing inequities in employment, healthcare, and access to housing that are rooted in systemic racism, have meant that Black, Latinx, Indigenous and immigrant households already experience higher rates of eviction, and these communities have been hit hardest by COVID-19.
“This is a critical time to protect Rhode Islanders who are hardest hit by the pandemic, especially those who are on the front lines of the economy and are essential workers” said Representative Diaz. “This legislation will protect people and communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.”
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This legislation will protect renters and homeowners from displacement during a state of emergency. In the context of the pandemic, this will protect these Rhode Islanders as well as the general public from increased risk of spread of the virus. The bill also creates a pathway for landlords and tenants to mediate agreements to address any asserted residential lease violations, using trained housing mediators within the District Court. Similar programs in the Northeast, including Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, have shown to be highly effective in resolving housing disputes before eviction proceedings take place, and help ensure stability for landlords and tenants alike without the expense and heightened health risks of going to court.
“Eviction endangers the publics’ health during this ongoing pandemic and declared state of emergency,” said Jennifer Wood, Director of the Rhode Island Center for Justice, a member of Homes RI that does policy work and direct representation of tenants facing homelessness. “And with so many Rhode Islanders facing job and income loss, unpaid rent also further erodes the supply of already too scarce affordable rentals unless a foreclosure moratorium is in place. We need an immediate moratorium on evictions and foreclosures to protect the publics’ health and prevent a mortgage foreclosure crisis even bigger than the devastating 2008-2009 crisis.”