Crying the need to ease the burdens of doing business in Rhode Island, the House of Representatives recently passed a budget that lowers the corporate tax rate, raises the ceiling on the estate tax, pays millions to 38 Studios bond investors, raises the gas tax and the cost of a car inspection. One has to wonder how these easements will truly help businesses in Rhode Island, or lure others here, when the state’s consumers are forced deeper into poverty.
Along with raising the costs of living and depleting our tax revenue, the House, led by new Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, may literally enable the eviction of hundreds of Rhode Island’s renters by shelving important legislation.
Just Cause (H7449 and S2659), is a bill that would prevent the no-fault eviction of tenants whose landlords get foreclosed on by the bank. As housing costs rise, homeownership remains what it has always been – the American “dream,” never reality – unemployment refuses to abate, and banks continue to foreclose on homes, the threat of no-fault eviction looms over many Rhode Island families.
“Just Cause,” the informal title of the bill, refers to the state’s Landlord-Tenant Act, which describes “just causes” for eviction. The list does not include foreclosure. However, throughout the housing crisis banks have used foreclosure as a justification to evict hundreds of families from their apartments. The rationale for this, they allege, is that homes are easier to sell without occupants. One has to wonder at this claim, when a simple drive down through many parts of the state includes the shells of abandoned, vandalized, and near-worthless homes, owned by banks that foreclosed and evicted the residents. These homes are not easy to sell. In fact, the only people who will buy them are out of state investors, slumlords looking to mooch rent from Rhode Island families in exchange for criminal living conditions, and house flippers, who profit from crisis by buying cheap properties.
According to The National Low Income Housing Coalition, housing costs are already out of reach for many Rhode Island renters. In order to afford the fair market rent for a 2-bedroom apartment ($928 a month), a renter making the average wage ($11.92 an hour), would have to work 60 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. There aren’t a lot of people I know making the “average wage,” which must factor in wages lower and much higher than 12 bucks an hour. With the minimum wage at 8.oo dollars an hour, one has to wonder how many working Rhode Islanders pay their rent. Add to this the 1,468 foreclosure deeds filed in 2013 and you have a rental crisis, as tenants evicted because of foreclosure drive up the demand on scarce and unaffordable rentals. In addition, those vacant, foreclosed properties stand empty, occasionally burning down, dragging down surrounding property values and further exacerbating the homeless and housing issues of our state.
No fault evictions due to foreclosure are increasing homelessness, reducing the availability of homes, pushing up rents, and fueling a housing crisis. It’s immoral and bad for the economy to allow banks to put families out, especially when they’ve done nothing wrong and are able to pay rent. Why would Speaker Mattiello, the primary opponent of the legislation, prefer a vacant home, homeless family, and devastated neighborhoods to a property occupied by tenants who pay rent and maintain the building? Even while the Senate leadership, through the efforts Senator Harold Metts, shepherds the bill towards passage, Speaker Mattiello remains adamantly in support of an international banking industry in opposition to the state’s people and economy.
It’s time to question the ideology that subsidies for the rich and corporations produce economic prosperity. It’s time for the state’s government to utilize regulations like Just Cause to bolster a struggling economy (at no cost to the state!), and protect the interests of the majority of the state’s people.
It’s time for Speaker Mattiello to reconsider the cost of shelving this legislation.