Partnership to Support Expanded Access to Eviction Defense and Emergency Housing Assistance for Residents
June 30, 2020
PROVIDENCE, RI – Mayor Jorge O. Elorza today joined Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris and leadership from Crossroads Rhode Island, Rhode Island Legal Services (RILS), and the Rhode Island Center for Justice (RICJ) to announce nearly $1 million in investments to fund expanded access to eviction defense and emergency housing assistance for Providence residents impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. With housing representing the greatest expense for many Providence families, the partnership coordinates protections for low- and moderate-income households and puts in place the groundwork for universal eviction defense for all residents.
“We know that access to housing is one of the best tools we have against preventing the spread of COVID-19 and today we’re laying out a bold vision that fuses together critical resources to support our residents,” said Mayor Jorge Elorza. “By protecting our community from displacement at this critical moment, we’re building the foundation for a more healthy, inclusive Providence.”
Addressing housing affordability and stability is key to economic health and quality of life for low- and moderate-income Providence residents. An estimated 49% of renter households in Providence are cost-burdened (paying more than 30 percent of their total household income for housing). Many of these communities also face among the highest rates of COVID-19 in Rhode Island. While the City has launched a robust response, including widespread testing and strict adherence to state and federal guidelines, the multi-pronged threat remains for this community.
“With today’s program we are using important CDBG funds to help provide relief to some of our most vulnerable members of our community. This global pandemic has led to an economic pandemic that so many of our residents are facing, and I hope this provides the relief that they need,” stated City Council Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris.
Through the passage of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) recently awarded the City of Providence federal funding to aid COVID-19 response and recovery. By strategically aligning the dispersal of the supplemental Community Development Block Grant (CDBG-CV) funds, the Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG-CV) program and the Providence Housing Trust, the City will maximize the impact of resources for eviction defense and emergency housing assistance.
Rhode Island Legal Services and the Rhode Island Center for Justice will work in partnership to provide legal assistance to residents during evictions while Crossroads will administer emergency housing assistance to residents through the Housing Help RI platform. By aligning these two previously separate services, the City—in collaboration with community partners—will be able to support a greater number of residents who have faced hardships and are at imminent risk of homelessness as a result of COVID-19.
“The R.I. Center for Justice is proud to be partnering with the City of Providence, Rhode Island Legal Services, and Crossroads to expand the impact of the rental assistance being announced today by pairing it with access to legal support for City residents,” said Jennifer Wood, Executive Director, R.I. Center for Justice. “This strategic alliance will best support Providence residents at this critical time when housing stability is more important than ever.”
When Rhode Island courts resume pandemic-related eviction proceedings in July it is anticipated that the demand for assistance will be even greater.
“Rhode Island Legal Services is happy to be a part of this coordinated effort, “said Steven Flores, Managing Attorney and Director, Housing Law Center at Rhode Island Legal Services. “We are grateful that Mayor Elorza has brought this dedicated group together and has focused on ways to keep Providence families housed. We look forward to maximizing the impact of every dollar and helping Providence families make it through these unprecedented times.”
Funding will support RILS and RICJ to provide legal assistance for over 1,000 eviction proceedings. Tenants with representation are far more likely to retain possession of their home, which will promote housing stability long after the crisis has passed. Prior to COVID-19, approximately 2,700 evictions were filed in Providence each year.
To seek legal assistance for eviction proceedings, residents in both private market rentals and public housing can call the R.I. Center for Justice at 401-491-1101 or Rhode Island Legal Services at 401-274-2652. Requests will be screened for eligibility and accepted on a rolling basis.
Individuals in need of emergency housing assistance will be able to access resources and financial assistance utilizing the Housing Help RI platform. To be eligible, residents must have resided in Rhode Island for at least one year, demonstrate a loss of income due to the COVID-19 emergency, and earn at or below 80% of Area Median Income. Interested parties should fill out the Housing Help RI’s online screening tool to confirm their eligibility and start the application process. As part of the collaborative partnership, residents who indicate they have received an eviction notice will automatically be referred to RILS or RICJ to be screened for free legal assistance.
“The COVID crisis has proven that housing is health care,” remarked Karen Santilli, President and CEO of Crossroads RI. “For nearly four months, Rhode Islanders have taken tremendous steps to slow the spread of COVID-19 and we can’t afford for a housing crisis to put that at risk. Mayor Elorza’s commitment to prevent avoidable evictions and expand housing assistance will go a long way to help vulnerable Rhode Islanders find and maintain stable housing. As the state and the Capital City reopen more and more parts of the local economy, Crossroads RI will continue to partner with advocates and service providers to support individuals and families who are at risk of becoming homeless. This work is important and lifesaving in normal times, and even more urgent during a pandemic and period of significant economic uncertainty.”
While these investments will meet an immediate housing need of residents, the City is committed to securing additional resources and enacting future policies to keep people in their homes throughout the public health crisis—and beyond. Last fall, the City of Providence began work on a Comprehensive Housing Strategy to guide the City’s long-term vision for housing. The goal of the Strategy is to develop an actionable ten-year housing plan with smart growth goals to ensure Providence offers housing that is affordable, safe, and meets the needs of all residents. Set to be released this summer, the Strategy builds upon and unifies affordable housing conversations and initiatives conducted by partners organizations, recommends updates to the City’s regulatory and permitting processes, and establishes specific housing production targets for Providence.
Residents looking to learn more about the eviction defense and emergency housing assistance programs are encouraged to attend a virtual informational session on July 14 at 6:00 PM. During the meeting City representatives and partner organizations will provide a detailed overview of the programs. More details about the event—including how to attend—can be found here: https://www.providenceri.gov/covid-19-housing-resource-guide/