NEW RESEARCH BY SOUTHCOAST FAIR HOUSING POINTS TO SOURCE OF INCOME DISCRIMINATION IN RHODE ISLAND
Rhode Island remains one of the last states in New England not to prohibit income discrimination
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FEBRUARY 12, 2019
Pawtucket, R.I. – SouthCoast Fair Housing (SCFH) today released a groundbreaking research report on source of income discrimination in Rhode Island. SOI discrimination affects residents who rely on income other than traditional employment wages to afford safe, quality housing. These tenants face disproportionate stigma in the private rental market and many struggle to find shelter as a result. Fourteen states now prohibit discrimination against lawful sources of income, but the practice remains legal in Rhode Island.
SCFH’s report, “It’s About the Voucher”: Source of Income Discrimination in Rhode Island, quantifies discrimination rates against low-income families who receive a Housing Choice Voucher (HCV). Over 9,300 Rhode Island households rely on the rental subsidy program.
“Our findings are alarming. Source of income discrimination hurts vulnerable tenants, and it’s happening in Rhode Island every day,”said Claudia Wack, the legal fellow who authored the report. “Families in the HCV program face particularly significant bias. These tenants can afford more than a third of statewide listings, yet will ultimately be turned away from 93% of units.” SCFH uncovered systemic online discrimination against voucher recipients during the course of its research. When the organization reached out to local housing providers by phone, 63% refused to rent to any tenant with a voucher. Another 11% expressed uncertainty.
Kristina da Fonseca, SCFH’s Executive Director, hopes that the report will contribute to discussions around how to improve Rhode Island’s civil rights laws.
“Income discrimination is a fair housing issue,” said da Fonseca. “It limits housing choice, reduces access to opportunity, and perpetuates concentrated poverty. That has to change.”
Rhode Island legislators have proposed bills to prohibit source of income discrimination during the past two legislative sessions. The HomesRI Income Discrimination Coalition, a diverse group of local organizations and community stakeholders, supports the passage of similar legislation in 2019. Such a bill was recently introduced by Representative Anastasia P. Williams (D-Dist. 9, Providence), Rep. K. Joseph Shekarchi (D-District 23, Warwick), Rep. Camille F.J. Vella-Wilkinson (D-Dist. 21, Warwick), Rep. Jean Philippe Barros (D-Dist. 59, Pawtucket), and Rep. Jason Knight (D-Dist. 67, Barrington, Warren).
“Housing vouchers and other public assistance programs help Rhode Island families to keep a roof over their heads, particularly as rents rise,” said Rep. Williams about the bill, H. 5137. “Every one of us has needed a helping hand at some point, and folks should not face discrimination on that basis. This legislation is very much needed.” Senator Harold M. Metts (D-Dist. 6, Providence) plans to introduce a companion bill in the Rhode Island Senate.
“We must make discrimination-free housing a civil right,” said Senator Metts, who has previously championed legislative action on the issue. “Rhode Island should not be divided into haves and have-nots, with certain families stigmatized just because of the type of assistance they receive. That dynamic weakens and segregates our communities.”
SCFH’s research came together with help from local housing advocates and students from Brown University. Volunteers from the student advocacy group Housing Opportunities for People Everywhere (HOPE) helped to collect statewide data, while members of “Mapping the Housing Crisis in Providence,” an Urban Studies Department Independent Study Project, contributed to research design and analysis at all stages.
A full copy of SCFH’s report can be found here.
About SouthCoast Fair Housing
SCFH is a non-profit organization that promotes fair housing practices and works to ensure equal housing opportunities for all. The agency operates out of Pawtucket, Rhode Island and New Bedford, Massachusetts. To learn more about SCFH, visit www.southcoastfairhousing.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.