Providence City Council Ordinance Banning Housing Discrimination Has First Passage

Feb 5, 2021 | 0 comments

At tonight’s City Council meeting, an ordinance which would ban housing discrimination for prospective renters who rely on alternative source of income such as a Federal Housing Choice Voucher, child support, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), veteran’s assistance or any other form or lawful income had its first passage by the City Council. The ordinance was initially introduced by Councilor Rachel Miller (Ward 13) and is co-sponsored by Council President Sabina Matos (Ward 15), Majority Whip John J. Igliozzi, Esq. (Ward 7), and Councilors Helen Anthony (Ward 2), Michael Correia (Ward 6), John Goncalves (Ward 1), Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3), Kat Kerwin (Ward 12), Pedro Espinal (Ward 10), David A. Salvatore (Ward 14), and James E. Taylor (Ward 8).

“Our goal when we introduced this legislation in March 2019 was to expand opportunity for Providence residents and to ensure that our neighborhoods are income diverse and able to thrive,” stated Councilwoman Rachel Miller, Ward 13. “With Barrington passing a similar ordinance in 2020, and now Providence, we are paving the way to encourage more municipalities and the State to pass legislation to protect Rhode Island families. If you have the funds to pay your rent, that should be the end of the discussion. Sadly, for many in our community, it is not. We are one step closer to ending this pervasive discrimination, and that is a victory. Yet, there is still more work to be done to address the need for affordable housing not just here in Providence, but across the State.”

The Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 and its amendments in 1988 prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, familial status, sex, and disability, and Rhode Island State law offers further protections; landlords may still reject interested renters because of where their income comes from, even if they can afford the requested rent. Those most vulnerable to this type of discrimination include tenants who are disproportionately disabled, low-income, families with children, and people of color.

“Discrimination in any form cannot and will not be tolerated in Providence. Tonight, we are one vote closer to making housing discrimination a thing of the past,” stated City Council President Sabina Matos.  “Finding affordable housing is already a challenge in the City, and adding to that the sometimes blatant discrimination from landlords when they learn a potential renter has a voucher or subsidy is a frightening reality. This practice is putting the most vulnerable in our community at risk. Tonight is the beginning of the end to housing discrimination, and I want to thank Councilor Miller for leading the charge on this pressing issue. As we enter the second year of a global pandemic where more and more people find themselves living on the margins, and where so many Rhode Islanders are cost-burdened by rents, this important legislation will help more families find homes.”

According to a report published this month by the National Multifamily Housing Council, 16 states prohibit discrimination based on source of income. Also, there are more than 100 municipalities that have source of income discrimination legislation. Providence is the second municipality in Rhode Island to codify local protections for renters.

The recently released HousingWorks RI 2020 Housing Fact Book breaks down cost-burdened renter households by median incomes: $12,765 and below; $12,766-$25,792; and $25,793-$44,541.  These incomes represent the lowest, lower-middle, and middle annual household incomes, respectively. In each of these brackets, 66 percent to 81 percent consider their households to be cost-burdened, while 12 percent to 60 percent across these groups consider themselves to be severely cost-burdened.  This legislation is designed to help these families continue to have ample access to housing without fear of being denied rent based on source of income.

This ordinance will need a second passage by the Council before it is sent to the Mayor for his signature.

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