Community advocates unite to push for housing bills

By Christine Dunn
Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Community groups from across Rhode Island met at the State House Wednesday afternoon for the “Power of Community Advocacy Day,” designed to get the message out to lawmakers about programs that need funding and laws that need passing.

Many expressed support for the “source of income” legislation (H 7528 / S 2301), which would prevent landlords from discriminating against tenants based on their “source of income,” such as Social Security benefits or Section 8 rental vouchers.

The legislation was passed in the Senate last year, but was held up in the House. Advocates hope the same scenario doesn’t play out this year, according to Melina Lodge, executive director of the Housing Network of Rhode Island. The Housing Network is an association of nonprofit community development corporations. Its members focus on community revitalization, and they develop and build affordable housing. The Senate Judiciary Committee recommended passage of S 2301 on Tuesday, and it has been placed on the Senate calendar for May 15.

Lodge’s group is also backing H 7316, legislation that would allocate $5 million of the state budget for affordable housing development.

Juan Espinoza from the Economic Progress Institute explained why his group is backing legislation (H 7315/ S 2191) that would help low-wage working families by increasing the Rhode Island Earned Income Tax Credit from 15 percent to 25 percent. There are other bills that would increase the credit from 15 percent to 20 percent and from 15 percent to 15.5 percent.

Rhode Island’s lowest-income families already pay a higher percentage of their incomes toward taxes than the wealthiest residents, so increasing the credit would help to improve tax fairness. Espinoza said an increase would also help to ease the impact of the new federal tax-reform law, which will erode the value of the credit over time.

Another participant at Wednesday’s event, Christopher Samih-Rotondo, of the Tenant and Homeowner Association of DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality) in Providence, said the group’s efforts to collect signatures to bring a rent-control initiative to the Providence ballot this fall have been stymied; DARE hasn’t collected enough signatures to get the process started in time. But he said his group hopes future members of the City Council in Providence will support rent-control efforts.

There were more than 20 advocacy and service groups at Wednesday’s event, including Church Community Housing in Newport; the Rhode Island Coalition for Children and Families, West Bay Community Action, the Kent Center, the House of Hope Community Development Corp., The Providence Center, the Community Care Alliance, the East Bay Community Action Program, Tri-County Community Action Agency, and the West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation.