An open letter from DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality), Neighbors 4 Revitalization, and Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project (RIHAP):
As people who organize residents in the South Side and West End of Providence directly impacted by evictions, homelessness, abandoned property, unemployment, and criminalization, we have concrete demands on luxury downtown development that will ensure direct benefits to our communities.
We support Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris’s vote not to approve a zoning variance for the proposed Fane Tower. As the elected representative of Ward 11, Councilwoman Harris knows all too well the housing crisis our city is facing. 69 percent of South Side and West End residents have annual incomes less than $50,000, and more than 50 percent of the population in these neighborhoods are housing cost-burdened (meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their monthly income on housing). These statistics describe the surface of the daily crises residents are forced to face.
While the State and other City Councilors fall for the pipe dream rhetoric that any development is good development, many of our families have to decide whether to eat or pay rent. Families are working overtime to pay for rent increases, mothers looking for stability are being priced out of “affordable” housing developments because they don’t have enough income, homeless youth cannot access resources and are forced into dangerous and unstable conditions. The discussion of the proposed tower cannot be separated from these stories.
We refuse to accept arguments made by city councilors that future developers will flee Providence if we demand community benefits from Fane. Nor can we continue to abide the argument that we must build luxury housing downtown in order to keep the rich from buying up housing in our neighborhoods. Wealthy developers and real estate investors have proven time and again that they will buy, sell, and occupy whatever they can get their hands on. Only regulations like community benefits agreements will ensure that low-income families in communities of color see justice and equity from economic development.
Over the last 30 years, we have seen the impact that Downtown development has on South Side and West End neighborhoods. Millions of dollars in the form of tax stabilization agreements are given to developers without guarantee that their projects will have tangible benefits for those in our communities. As these projects are built, the homeless are criminalized and pushed out of Downtown into our neighborhoods rather than being provided the support and opportunities such development is supposed to offer. Meanwhile, our housing stock ages, housing prices continue to rise, and long-term residents in our neighborhoods continue to struggle. We know that luxury development has not helped fix the problems our communities face.
Those living in and representing neighborhoods where housing is affordable only to the privileged few are arguing against the Tower because of aesthetics and fear of zoning variances. That argument fails to get to the heart of our opposition to the project, rooted in the immediate needs of residents in Ward 11 and every low-income community of color. Let us not forget that our communities in the South Side and West End have been historically marginalized, sharing the history of displacement with other communities, notably the Black communities of the East Side and South and Central Americans in Olneyville. Housing always plays a vital role in our displacement and disenfranchisement.
In order to benefit Ward 11, as well as low-income families in communities of color across the city, The Fane Tower developer must sign a legally-binding Community Benefits Agreement, which includes:
- Contributions to the city to fund rehabilitation of abandoned properties, finance the construction and maintenance of low-income housing, and offer rental vouchers to those transitioning from homelessness, and
- Designate at least 40 percent of all housing created in the development as affordable to very low and low income families in Providence (those with annual incomes of $30,000 or less)
- Create 1 new job for every $35,000 given in tax breaks and or subsidies,
- Ensure that new hires reflect the racial demographics of the city of Providence,
- Use apprenticeship programs for construction projects,
- Prioritize hiring people from census tracts with high crime, unemployment and poverty,
- Ensure there is no discrimination against job applicants with criminal records and prioritize hiring formerly incarcerated workers, and
- Fully comply with Providence’s “First Source” local hiring ordinance.
The Fane development should include this as a Community Benefits Agreement, but we’ve been advocating that city council leadership include these requirements as standard for all Tax Stabilization Agreements.
A luxury housing and business development for high-end earners with no guaranteed housing, funding, or jobs provides little hope for the future of Ward 11 and the majority of city residents. As long as thousands of Providence residents face a housing crisis, we must ensure that all luxury development is utilized to benefit those in our city who won’t have access to the projects after they’re built.
Mary Kay Harris was not contested and was re-elected to be the City Councilwoman of Ward 11 because she has lived among us all her life, she has struggled with us, she has uplifted us. That is why she voted “No” the first time that she and her colleagues had an opportunity to vote on this development. We support her decision to vote “No” on overriding the Mayor’s veto tonight, and in fact, expect nothing less of all city councilors, especially those representing low-income communities of color.