Sen. William Conley (D-East Providence, Pawtucket) and Rep. Grace Diaz (D-Providence) say an eviction and foreclosure moratorium is needed to keep families safe during the ongoing pandemic. The lawmakers cite concern that the state will see a spike in eviction filings as thousands remain unemployed and can no longer rely on a weekly bonus from the federal government. 

“This is a critical time to protect Rhode Islanders who are hardest hit by the pandemic, especially those who are on the front lines of the economy and are essential workers,” Diaz said in a statement. “This legislation will protect people and communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.”

Activists have called for an eviction moratorium for months, warning that widespread unemployment has put thousands of families at risk of losing their homes. Conley said the measure -- introduced long after the legislative session typically ends -- is urgently needed. 

“We're not at a moment of preventing a crisis,” Conley commented. “The crisis is now. And so this is really about managing the crisis, not preventing it.

Court data so far does not indicate there’s been a major uptick in eviction filings. The District Court closed to non-emergency cases in March. Since reopening June 2, an average of 10 eviction cases have been filed each day. That’s compared to more than 20 per day in June of the past three years. And the number of eviction cases filed has remained relatively stable, even as the federal CARES Act eviction protections and unemployment bonus expired. 

But even without the surge of evictions many feared, advocates say it’s more important than ever to prevent housing loss. 

“Eviction endangers the publics’ health during this ongoing pandemic and declared state of emergency,” Jennifer Wood, Director of the Rhode Island Center for Justice, said in a statement.  “And with so many Rhode Islanders facing job and income loss, unpaid rent also further erodes the supply of already too scarce affordable rentals.”

As of this week, Housing Help RI, a rent relief program run by Crossroads Rhode Island, has received over 6,200 applications for assistance and has temporarily stopped accepting applications. Another program run by United Way of Rhode Island, Safe Harbor, has received more than 1,100 applications.

The bill would also guarantee landlords and tenants an opportunity to settle their dispute through a mediator. 

“We're not going to be separating kids from their homes. We're not going to be separating kids from remote learning. We're not going to be exacerbating the public health crisis by, you know, dramatically increasing homelessness,” Conley explained. “And through all of this, we're protecting the landlord too.”

Gov. Gina Raimondo has repeatedly said she’s not sure whether she was the legal authority to put a moratorium on evictions, as Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker did in April. Baker last month extended the Massachusetts eviction moratorium through mid-October, prompting a lawsuit from landlords.