The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the CDC’s eviction moratorium, and now 40,000 Rhode Islanders are at risk for eviction this winter.
Rhode Island has $350 million to support rent relief programs through Rent Relief RI, but it has dispersed less than $19 million so far. Many families have submitted applications, reflecting as much as $50 million in need, but many applicants are reporting that there are challenges in getting those needs met.
We acknowledge that RI Housing is working hard to adapt in these challenging times. Nevertheless, communities most in need of eviction relief – BIPOC communities – are being left behind.
These are the communities already suffering from the extreme lack of affordable housing in our state and the pandemic has only made their situation worse.
Yet we know what stands in the way: access to technology, language barriers, and bureaucracy are significant obstacles for historically disenfranchised communities. And they need support now.
Community organizations like the George Wiley Center, Direct Action for Rights and Equality, and the RI Center for Justice are trying to reduce these barriers, but they can’t do it alone. If we want to reach communities of color, then we must be creative and intentional, which is why we are proposing that the state create equity-focused Eviction Moratorium Clinics.
Modeled after the successful equity-focused COVID-19 vaccination clinics, Eviction Moratorium Clinics could provide accessible places for individuals and families to get information about rent relief options and sit down with a trained volunteer to apply for help right away.
We must meet people where they are, by partnering with trusted community organizations who understand the cultures, languages, and technology needs that exist throughout Rhode Island communities, and work quickly to overcome them.
We have called on the Governor, RI Housing, and community leaders to join us in making these clinics a reality. The families of Rhode Island are counting on us, and we cannot succeed if we do not work together. We must put our full effort behind a coordinated approach to ensure all Rhode Islanders access the relief they need before the cold winter months are here.
Leonela Felix is a Rhode Island State Representative, District 61 Pawtucket. Dr. Luis Daniel Muñoz is a Democrat running for Governor of Rhode Island.