Jewish Alliance joins interfaith community to highlight Rhode Island housing crisis

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Did you know that Rhode Island has the highest number of cost-burdened households in New England? According to federal and state standards, a household spending more than 30 percent of its income on housing, including utilities, is categorized as “housing cost burdened.” As of 2015, half of all Rhode Island renters were cost burdened.

This can impact an individual’s or a family’s ability to afford other basic necessities, such as food, transportation and childcare.

The Jewish Alliance Community Relations Council, in partnership with the Rhode Island Interfaith Coalition to Reduce Poverty, provided education and advocacy opportunities this spring and summer to help with this pervasive issue.

On May 21, over 50 faith leaders, community members and advocates from across the state joined together for the first Faith in Action Interfaith Advocacy Day. The program began with Advocacy 101 training, facilitated by Kristina Contreras Fox, of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless. Following her training, the group walked to the State House for a news conference before meeting with legislators in support of House Bill 5137, known as the “Source of Income” bill.

This bill would end discriminatory housing practices that allow landlords to refuse to rent to individuals/families based on the source of income for their rent, which might include housing vouchers, veterans benefits and Social Security. Despite significant community efforts and organizing for the bill, it did not make it out of the House Judiciary Committee.

After the large turnout and mobilization on Advocacy Day, the Alliance, Interfaith Coalition and Rhode Island State Council of Churches joined together to share a heartbreaking local story that gives a personal narrative to this crisis.

On July 11, 75 people gathered at the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center, in Providence, to watch a locally made film, “Providence Lost,” and hear from panelists about the housing crisis in Rhode Island.

“Providence Lost,” a short documentary by Oscar Dupuy d’Angeac, follows the Trottiers, a family that is being evicted and their subsequent search for a new home. In 2018, the Trottiers were one of more than 13,000 Rhode Island households to be evicted. Their struggle in the face of soaring rents and a dysfunctional safety net is shared by a majority of renters across the state.

Adam Cable, a member of the Community Relations Council and Alliance board shared, “I particularly appreciated how the filmmaker humanized the family and showed the connection between their story and those of too many other Rhode Islanders. I truly appreciate that the Alliance helped make this event happen so that our community could take part.”

After the film, Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island Bishop Nicholas Knisely facilitated a panel with the filmmaker; Madonna Trottier; Stephen Tobin, the son of the family featured in the film; Brenda Clements, director of Housing Works RI; and Michelle Brophy of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals.

D’Angeac, in his remarks, emphasized the importance of these stories and their policy implications.

“We need to affirm and codify that housing is a human right,” he said.

STEPHANIE HAGUE (shague@jewishallianceri.org) is director of community relations at the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island. For more information on these initiatives or to get involved in the work of the Community Relations Council, please contact her