Proposal protects prospective renters who face discrimination based on source of income
Wednesday, March 20, 2019
PROVIDENCE R.I.- Mayor Jorge O. Elorza joined members of the Providence City Council, Providence Human Relations Commission (PHRC), representatives from the United Way of Rhode Island, and housing advocates to announce the introduction of an ordinance that aims to ban housing discrimination faced by prospective renters who rely on a lawful alternative source of income such as a housing voucher, child support, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or rental assistance. The ordinance is to be co-sponsored by Ward 13 Councilor Rachel Miller and six council members.
“No one should be unjustly denied the opportunity to secure a home,” said Mayor Jorge O. Elorza. “This ordinance is a bold step towards making sure that our most vulnerable are protected. By pushing for greater access to safe, affordable housing, we are making Providence a stronger, more inclusive city.”
While the Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, familial status, sex, and disability, and Rhode Island State law offers further protections; landlords may still reject interested renters because of where their income comes from, even if they can afford the requested rent. Those most vulnerable to this type of discrimination include tenants who are disproportionately disabled, low-income, families with children and people of color.
“Our goal is to end discrimination based on income from public assistance and housing vouchers, statewide, by starting right here in our Capital City. Because, as we often hear, as Providence goes, so does the state,” stated Councilwoman Rachel Miller, Ward 13. “If you have the funds to pay your rent, that should be the end of the discussion. Sadly, for many in our community, it’s not. This ordinance will put an end to the housing discrimination that too many face, and it will provide a pathway to keeping our neighborhoods thriving, and also keep them income diverse. When it comes to basic human rights like having a roof over our heads, if you can afford it, no matter the source of income, you should be afforded the same opportunity as the next person. I want to thank my colleagues on the City Council, Mayor Elorza and his administration, and specifically Aaron Regunberg for their support and dedication to this initiative. In addition to them, I would be remiss to not thank Madam Chairwoman Williams and Senator Metts for their leadership on proposed state legislation on this matter.”
A recent report by SouthCoast Fair Housing found that discrimination based on source of income is a major obstacle for far too many families locally. Housing voucher holders should be able to afford more than a third of rental listings, yet they are ultimately shut out of 93 percent of all units, no matter the presented qualifications. Protections for recipients of such assistance are especially critical considering that statewide, approximately 10,000 families are enrolled in the aforementioned voucher program. This includes nearly 3,000 Providence households.
“Discrimination in any form can’t and won’t be tolerated in Providence,” stated City Council President Sabina Matos. “Finding affordable housing is already a challenge in the City, and adding to that the sometimes blatant discrimination from landlords when they learn a potential renter has a voucher or subsidy is a frightening reality. This practice is putting the most vulnerable in our community at risk, and I believe that this legislation will bring us closer to ending this discriminatory practice. These systematic forms of discrimination are the exact reason why I have tasked Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris and Councilman Luis A. Aponte to address these issues in the Committee on Urban Renewal, Redevelopment, and Planning.”
Nationwide, advocacy efforts to prevent source of income discrimination have led to 14 states and over 75 municipalities enacting laws for those who rely on alternate income, social benefit or subsidy. Providence is the first municipality in the state seeking to implement local protections. The proposal mirrors state legislation that Mayor Elorza has expressed strong support for.
“Source of income discrimination penalizes households still reeling from federal housing policies such as redlining and racial steering, reinforcing racialized patterns of homelessness, poverty, and housing segregation,” said Providence Human Relations Commission Chair Patricia LaSalle. “The ordinance our Executive Director has been working on alongside the Mayor’s Policy Office and members of the City Council stands to change these circumstances, and we are thrilled to be working with community partners to enforce this ordinance.”
The PHRC will work in tandem with community partners, including the Rhode Island Center for Justice and SouthCoast Fair Housing, to support residents in investigating discrimination complaints. Residents can reach out to partner organizations directly, or submit complaints to the PHRC for referral, by calling the Mayor’s Center for City Services (MCCS) at 3-1-1.
“Our findings are alarming. Source of income discrimination hurts vulnerable tenants, and it’s happening in Rhode Island every day,” said Claudia Wack of SouthCoast Fair Housing. “Families in the HCV program face particularly significant bias. SCFH uncovered systemic discrimination against voucher recipients during the course of its research.”
Recent demographic projections indicate that Providence’s overall population is expected to continue to grow, which will require additional affordable housing units. The City has already begun to address the demand for affordable housing through several initiatives, including the EveryHome program, which has to date successfully rehabilitated over 500 formerly vacant and abandoned residential properties.
“At United Way, we firmly believe that our state will prosper when every community in it prospers. We also believe that strong communities can be built through housing,” said United Way of Rhode Island Executive Director Cortney Nicolato. “That’s why United Way is a leader in the Homes RI campaign—a coalition of organizations working to expand housing opportunities for all Rhode Islanders. Through this work, we support the removal of legal, administrative, regulatory, and economic barriers to quality housing.”
Additionally, the City develops new rental and homeownership housing units through the HOME Investment Partnership Program (HOME), and provides supports to homeowners and homebuyers in the form of emergency home repairs through the Home Repair program, Lead Safe Providence Program, and Down Payment & Closing Cost Assistance Program (offered through a partnership with the Housing Network of Rhode Island). The City also assists persons experiencing homelessness to secure housing and transition out of shelters through Emergency Solutions Grant “Rapid Rehousing Funds.”
Cosponsors for this ordinance are Council President Sabina Matos, Councilwoman Rachel M. Miller, Councilwoman Helen D. Anthony, Councilman Luis A. Aponte, Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris, Councilwoman Nirva R. LaFortune, and Councilwoman Katherine A. Kerwin.