A window in the empty third floor apartment at 40 Grove Street in Providence had blown open in the night, letting out heat and letting in an early morning, below freezing draft. Other windows in the first, second and third floor apartments are nailed in place or tied shut with bits of string or stuffed with garbage bags and newspaper. Thin, gauzy tape covers the seams that separate window from wall in some rooms. You can look outside the apartment through the space between the ill fitting front door and door frame. The ceilings leak and mice sometimes come up through holes in the baseboard of the closet.
Madonna Trottier, who lives in the first floor apartment with her husband Butch, tells me that she once had to throw away all her groceries because mice chewed through the boxes.
Despite these problems the apartment itself is kept neat and clean. It is a home. But the Trottiers face eviction because Providence Student Living, a business owned by Dez Properties, a Boston-based investment company, bought the house and wants them out. The company plans to fix up the apartment after the Trottiers are evicted so they can double or triple the rent for college students, says DARE.
Stephen Tobin lives on the second floor.
The Tenant and Homeowner Association (THA), formed out of DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality), has a solution for situations like the Trottier’s: Rent Control. The group has crafted a ordinance, which, among other things, would regulate annual rent increases on private market apartments in Providence, entitle tenant’s to renewable, year-to-year leases, and establish a 9-member rent board to oversee the administration of the policy.
The THA is currently gathering signatures, as per the Providence City Charter, to introduce the ordinance to the Providence City Council to be passed without amendment. If the council declines passage, the THA will collect the subsequent required signatures to make rent control a ballot question in Providence in the November elections
“This campaign is designed to counter the negative impacts of gentrification, rising rents, and housing speculation,” writes the THA. “Especially like that practiced by Providence Student Living, the LLC that purchased 40 Grove Street in November and has acknowledged plans to fully rehabilitate the building in order to rent it to college students for much higher rents than the Trottier family, elderly tenants on a fixed income, could afford.”
Anusha Alles and Alexis Trujillo, both THA members, went with the Trottiers when they were taken to court to be evicted by the new owners of the building.
“When we were there, we saw that a lot of these people, most of these people, were young families: a lot of children there, a lot of women, a lot of people of color, a lot of people speaking Spanish,” said Alles.
“The majority of tenants are under represented [legally] and are pressured into ‘move out’ deals by landlords and their attorneys,” said Trujillo. “We witnessed this. A lot of people Anusha mentioned were pushed into corners of the public space of the lobby of the courtroom, and were sort of like forced into these deals because they didn’t have any other options.”
In court, the Trottiers were forced to take a deal that would force them out of their home in a few weeks.
“Providence Student Living is an example of how gentrification is working in our city right now,” said Trujillo. The houses listed on the Dez Properties website are all located in low-income communities of color, “where students and other transplants are actively pushing people out by the force of these companies, companies like Providence Student Living.”
The business model of Providence Student living, said Alles, “The put people out of their neighborhoods, where they have lived for years and invested time and money. They furnish the place, and then they rent it to students from out of town for exorbitant rents. This is not economic development for the majority of people in this city, and we need policies like rent control to discourage speculation and stop skyrocketing rents.”
Representative John Lombardi (Democrat, District 8, Providence) spoke about the need to protect his neighbors in the community.
“Today we are announcing our rent control campaign,” said Malchus Mills, DARE board member. “Rent control makes sure that landlords can only raise rent once per year, and by a small percentage.”
The 9-member rent board that the rent control ordinance would establish would settle disputes between tenants and landlords, leveling the playing field when tenants are unable to afford a lawyer.
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