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Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Over 40,000 Rhode Island families in danger of eviction

McKee administration is sitting on almost $200 million in rent assistance

By Will Collette

RentReliefRI has almost
$200 million available
Over the weekend, the federal moratorium on pandemic-related evictions expired. The moratorium had been imposed early in the COVID outbreak and had been renewed several times by the Centers for Disease Control as a public health measure.

However, the US Supreme Court responded to a lawsuit by Republicans, ruling that the CDC could no longer renew the foreclosure/eviction moratorium without specific Congressional authorization. 

That authorization didn’t happen due to obstruction by Mitch McConnell and his band of Republican Senate nihilists.

As President Joe Biden reminded Americans, this crisis doesn’t have to be as bad as it sounds because there is LOTS of unspent federal rental assistance money sitting in state treasuries that hasn’t been spent.

Rhode Island received $200 million in rental assistance for both tenants and landlords, but has only spent around $8 million. This is not a unique Rhode Island problem, but that doesn’t excuse the lapse in putting this much needed money into play.

As US Rep. David Cicilline explained, “That money is available, both for people that can’t pay their rent and for landlords who are expecting rent and haven’t received it. There really is no reason to evict anyone.”

The money is administered by RentReliefRI. Christine Hunsinger, RentReliefRI’s chief strategy and information officer, told WPRI that people can still apply for help with both rent and utilities dating back to the beginning of the pandemic.

As of Monday, they had received 7,934 applications and had approved 1,342. More than 5,000 are still in the process. There are a variety of excuses for this dismal performance – timing, rules and regulations, staffing, technology, etc. – but frankly, let’s get on with it.

Though RentReliefRI can't seem to get much money out to desperate tenants, they have been able to create a lovely data dashboard, as you can see here:

Note that so far, the program has paid out $7.6 million to landlords and only $186,406 to tenants - that's almost 98% to landlords.

Almost 366,000 Rhode Islanders live in rental units, More than 12% - around 45,000 – are behind on their rent and could face eviction.

That’s the immediate crisis and with almost $200 million sitting and waiting to be used, we have an almost immediate solution – if Dan McKee will kick some ass to make it happen.

Lest we forget, the Rhode Island economy could also greatly benefit from the direct injection of another $200 million in immediate aid.

If you know someone who is having trouble paying for their rent or utilities or a landlord struggling with unpaid rent, have them go to RentReliefRI and fill out an application. 

They can also call the RentRelief Call Center at 1-855-608-8756, Monday through Friday from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM. They’re open Saturday from 8 AM to 1 PM.


Need application assistance or legal services?

Click here for a listing of partner agencies offering those services.

Then we should focus our attention on the more long term cause of this crisis and that’s the lack of affordable housing. Very few municipalities in Rhode Island have met state mandated goals for having enough affordable housing to meet the needs of the people.

As the map below shows, Charlestown is one of the worst. For a long time and to this very day, Charlestown resists affordable housing as an affront to its “rural character,” an undefined term that when used by the ruling Charlestown Citizens Alliance (CCA Party), is just another form of Jim Crow.