Providence, Rhode Island -- As part of the national Renter Week of Action,
Providence renters gathered in City Hall, outside of Mayor Jorge Elorza’s office
on Wednesday, September 20th to protest increasingly unaffordable rents, poor
housing conditions, and public subsidies for high-end developers. Renters in
Providence are demanding municipal policy to control rent increases, effective
remediation of unsafe and unhealthy apartments, and an end to tax breaks and
public subsidies for luxury developments. Protestors highlighted RI Housing’s
“Acquisition and Revitalization Program” (ARP), which utilizes $10 million of
the recently passed $50 million dollar affordable housing bond. DARE member and
Southside tenant, Terri Wright described how she voted for the bond in November
with the hopes that it will help both her adult daughter and son, who both work
but cannot find affordable housing. “RI Housing lies, lies, lies,” the group
chanted in response to Wright’s story.
Malchus Mills, DARE member and Section 8 tenant, described
the unsafe and unhealthy conditions of apartments across Providence, as well as
the discrimination he faces when looking for an apartment with his voucher.
“The landlords of today do not want to keep apartments and houses safe and
healthy for families with kids and the reason being is because they think, or
they will tell you, that it costs too much for them to bring the house up to
standards, which should be a law for every landlord to do. The fact that some
landlords do not want to accept Section 8 vouchers shows this very clearly.”
After each story of misused public housing dollars and slum
conditions in private market apartments, the crowd chanted, “No rent for
roaches, no rent for rats,” and “We’re not for sale, like Providence City
Hall!” The group had two piñatas, symbolizing the condition of slum houses in
Providence, as well as the luxury condominiums they argue Mayor Elorza and the
City subsidize at the expense of low-income renters. After protestors told
their stories, one member of the crowd stepped up and smashed the two piñatas,
to chants of “We’re not for sale!” Inside of the luxury condo model were
“$10,000,000” dollar bills featuring Mayor Elorza and RI Housing Director
Barbara Fields faces in place of former presidents, along with the phrase, “In
Providence City Hall We Do Not Trust.” Protestors spread these dollar bills
throughout City Hall, handing them to passersby as well as to staff in the
city’s many offices.
As the Trump administration threatens billions of dollars in
cuts to vital housing and community support programs, tenants across the
country are coming together to denounce policies that strike at the hearts of
working class people, immigrants and communities of color. By all available
measures, the crisis for renters has become worse over the last year. Over half
of all renter households in the nation now pay unaffordable rents, which holds
true for Providence, where 57% of renter households are cost-burdened (meaning
they pay more than 30% of their income towards rent), according to Housing
Works RI’s 2016 Housing Factbook.
A new analysis of housing affordability, When Renter Rise,
Cities Thrive, shows how critical renters are to the vitality of our
economy. If renters in the U.S. paid
only what they could afford for housing (30 % of income), they would have an
extra $124 billion to spend on basic necessities like food, transportation,
healthcare, and education; Providence renter
households would have an additional $6,200 in their pockets.
(Source: National Equity
Atlas, a partnership between PolicyLink and the USC Program for
Environmental and Regional Equity).
Wednesday’s action was one of over 50 actions planned in 45
cities across the country, as part of a Renter Week of Action and Assemblies
organized by Homes For All. In the largest such mobilization
in decades, thousands took to the streets to confront corporate landlords,
developers and politicians driving the housing crisis.