PROVIDENCE, RI – Mayor Jorge O. Elorza joined Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11), Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3), Steven S. Flores, Esq., Managing Attorney for the Housing Law Center of Rhode Island Legal Services, Inc., Brenda Clement, Director of HousingWorks RI, Christopher Samih-Rotondo, Interim Director of Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) and Jordan Mickman, Staff Attorney for the Rhode Island Center for Justice (CFJ) today to announce a new Providence Eviction Defense program, funded by the City of Providence’s American Rescue Plan Act dollars and managed by Rhode Island Legal Services. Through this program, Rhode Island Legal Services, in partnership with the Rhode Island Center for Justice, Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) and HousingWorks RI, will provide qualified low-income Providence residents with legal defense services in housing court to prevent eviction.
“As a former eviction defense attorney, I have seen firsthand the difference having a lawyer can make in someone sleeping with a roof over their head or on the street,” said Mayor Jorge O. Elorza. “I am happy to be building on the prior successes of our eviction defense work, especially in the midst of our state’s current housing crisis, to help our city’s most vulnerable residents to stay in their homes and have access to the resources they need.”
The Eviction Defense program will operate for a period of one year, funded by $600,000 of American Rescue Plan Act funding, and will provide services to Providence residents who earn 65% or less of the Area Median Income (AMI) or who live in a Providence qualified census tract. The program will assist tenants through the support of attorney advocates and law students, access to a tenant help desk located in the Sixth District Housing Court in Providence and increased community supports through the
DARE Tenant and Homeowner Association (THA), which provides outreach to at-risk families and uses bi-lingual canvassers for outreach in Providence’s low-income neighborhoods to address the root causes of homelessness. HousingWorks RI (HWRI) at Roger Williams University will oversee the data analysis, evaluation and reporting components of the eviction defense program.
“There’s no question that families continue to fall behind and have been unable to keep up with rising rents throughout the city,” said Councilwoman and Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11). “This eviction defense program will provide more breathing room for tenants, up to another year, of much needed assistance. It’s important for tenants facing eviction to have options and this program will give them the tools needed to legally negotiate and come to a compromise with landlords.”
The City of Providence launched a similar program in June 2020, at the height of COVID-19 pandemic, funded by the CARES Act and the Providence Housing Trust. The Collaborative Housing Program used $1 million to help families with eviction defense and rent relief, and was operated by Rhode Island Legal Services, Crossroads Rhode Island and the Rhode Island Center for Justice. From 2020 to 2021, the Collaborative provided legal services to 775 families facing eviction.
“The overwhelming majority of tenants facing eviction do so without legal help, and landlords almost always have an attorney,” said Steven S. Flores, Esq. of Rhode Island Legal Services. “The tenant help desk is a group effort intended to shift that lopsided power imbalance. Rhode Island Legal Services is proud to be the lead partner with the City of Providence for continuing this important work into next year, which simply could not be done without the tireless efforts of each partner, including Rhode Island Center for Justice and the Pro Bono Collaborative at Roger Williams University School of Law. Together, we have assisted nearly 100 families a month through the help desk, which is a critical first step towards creating a more level playing field.”
For more information about this program, applicants can visit PVDRescuePlan.com/Apply, contact Rhode Island Legal Services at 401-274-2652, or visit the Tenant Help Desk in the Sixth District Housing Court in Providence.
Rhode Island Legal Services is the state’s oldest and largest non-profit law firm. Rhode Island Legal Services has provided statewide civil legal assistance to low-income Rhode Islanders since 1969 and has been defending Providence residents in eviction cases for decades