Raimondo unveils new housing program to prevent evictions

PROVIDENCE – A new eviction diversion initiative to help curve potential homelessness during the public health crisis was announced by Gov. Gina M. Raimondo on Friday during her coronavirus briefing.

The program, named Safe Harbor Housing program, is in partnership with the United Way and using $7 million of Rhode Island’s $1.25 billion of CARES-Act funds, will help assist renters with the legal process leading up to an eviction and work out a payment program with their landlords to keep residents in their apartment.

“We know there’s a great deal of struggling,” said Raimondo, who also worked with the Rhode Island Judiciary to address the eviction problem. Courts have been closed for much of the pandemic, but since reopening, Raimondo said there hasn’t been a “massive spike” in evictions. However, she said on Friday that she is worried that when the extra weekly $600 benefit from unemployment insurance runs out at the end of July, she thinks the issue of housing and job loss will only get worse.

The governor said she is looking to help close to 1,500-2,000 Rhode Islanders to maintain stable housing in this program, but admits that this is not enough.

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“It’s obvious that that $7 million isn’t going to solve the whole problem,” said Raimondo, who is looking to work with the legislature to make a similar program permanent. “I’m not going to pretend that I don’t know that.”

Tenants can apply directly or landlords can apply on behalf off their tenants who have rent that is past due or received an eviction notice. In order to qualify, Raimondo said renters have to meet an income criteria and are behind on their rent because of circumstances related to COVID-19, such as temporarily losing their job. The governor did not specify any income criteria that would disqualify a renter.

Through the Safe Harbor Housing program, tenants will able to be able to have access to free legal services and renters can apply to participate before receiving an eviction notice if they are on the verge of being evicted. Both the tenant and landlord must agree to the program.

“We want to resolve this issue before an eviction,” said Raimondo. “This is an immediate action step to keep Rhode Islanders in their homes.

Alexa Gagosz is a PBN staff writer. Contact her by emailing Gagosz@PBN.com.

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