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COMMENTARY

No home for the holidays?

A North Providence resident and candidate for State Senate District 4 says Rhode Island needs to stop predatory landlords and solve the affordable housing crisis

A home on Eaton Street, in the Elmhurst neighborhood of Providence, near Providence College.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

In many neighborhoods near colleges like Providence College, Johnson and Wales, and Brown University, predatory real estate companies are jacking up rents and forcing out families in favor of high-paying students.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Significantly higher rents are threatening families in communities throughout Rhode Island.

According to the 2020 Housing Fact Book from HousingWorksRI, the average 2-bedroom rent in Rhode Island is $1,651, requiring a yearly income of at least $66,000 to afford. In North Providence alone, more than 50 percent of all renters are cost burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income every month on rent. Real estate developers aimed at students, such as The 02908 Club, Strive Realty, and D&D Realty (which was accused by HUD of refusing to rent to families) only exacerbate the problem by pushing up rents for the entire community.

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And it’s not only in Rhode Island. The United States is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis that is leading to a rise in people experiencing homelessness. The most recent national survey, taken a few weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic began in America in 2020, showed that more than 580,000 people were homeless. Covid-19 has only exacerbated these numbers. On top of that, the National Low Income Housing Coalition has reported that there is a need for nearly 7 million more affordable homes for extremely low-income renters — those at or below the poverty guideline or below 30 percent of area median income---than currently exists.

On top of all of that, Rhode Island’s shelters are at capacity and have long waiting lists, forcing individuals and families to live in their cars and out on the street.

What are the solutions to this crisis?

Local colleges and universities should have an obligation to house their students, instead of pushing them out into the private rental market, where real estate companies take advantage of them and destroy the fabric of local neighborhoods. Colleges should be charged a fee for each student that they cannot house on their campus. Real estate companies that exclusively rent to students should be charged a separate tax. Both of these revenue streams should go into a state revolving fund that helps to build and subsidize affordable housing. That money, along with allocating funds from the CARES Act and American Rescue Plan Act, should begin to alleviate the affordable housing crisis in our state.

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No one should be pushed out of their home by a greedy developer, nor should our colleges and universities be able to shunt their housing problems onto local neighborhoods. What’s at stake is the spirit of our local communities, and the dignity of each individual. It begs the question, if our government can’t help our neighborhoods thrive and ensure that every person has a right to a home, then why are they still in power at the State House?

Lenny Cioe is a registered nurse and a candidate for State Senate District 4.