By Sen. Dawn Euer and Rep. Jason Knight
Rhode Island is on the precipice of a cataclysmic housing disaster stemming from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. But swift, decisive action would avert this crisis.
On Monday, the courts will open and landlords may begin filing for evictions, although in some situations renters may have protections until July. With over 230,000 new unemployment claims since March 9, and a record 17-percent unemployment rate, vast numbers of Rhode Islanders are likely on the verge of losing their housing. When Virginia reopened its courts two weeks ago, it had over 800 eviction proceedings already scheduled. Rhode Island, with the fourth-highest unemployment rate in the nation, is likely to experience a similar avalanche.
Renters are more likely than homeowners to live paycheck to paycheck, at risk of financial ruin if their income stops. While the moratorium has protected them up to now, if they’ve been unable to pay rent for several months, it’s unlikely they can pay those months of back rent to avoid eviction.
Rhode Island can use a portion of its $1.25 billion federal COVID-19 response funding for emergency rent assistance. Quickly establishing an Eviction Diversion Court – really, just a special District Court calendar to handle evictions – would create a means to provide tenants legal counsel, require mediation and provide the financial assistance necessary to prevent eviction.
We appreciate the courts’ and the administration’s efforts in this arena so far, and urge them to act swiftly to save tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of Rhode Islanders from homelessness.
Sen. Dawn Euer (D-13) represents Newport and Jamestown, and Rep. Jason Knight (D-67) represents Barrington and Warren