Organized by DARE[note]Direct Action for Rights and Equality[/note], just under two dozen people gathered outside 18 Portland Street in Providence on a windy, chilly Valentine’s Day morning. 18 Portland Street is the location of one of the many houses that are part of Barbara Jordan II apartments. No one lives there, or in any of the 74 now empty apartments.
Barbara Jordan II apartments is a 74 unit, scattered site development that was recently foreclosed upon by the federal office of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) due to decades of neglect by their former owner and unsafe conditions for the subsidized tenants, many of whom were single parents with young children.
In August, DARE’s Tenant and Homeowner Association (THA) held a press conference outside of Rhode island Housing’s offices to denounce the hiring of Chicago-based Camiros Ltd, a consulting firm charged with conducting community engagement in the neighborhood surrounding the development. The group included neighborhood residents and members of DARE, and offered testimony on the need for very-low and low-income housing, tenant control and ownership, and the hiring local, people of color contractors and laborers for the rehabilitation of the apartment complex.
Malchus Mills, Vice-Chair of DARE’s Board of Directors and leader of the Tenant and Homeowner Association, offered an introduction. “We have here 74 apartments that were used to help the most vulnerable people in the city, with that in mind, let’s not forget or leave them out again!”
Mills went on to outline the group’s main demands for the rehabilitation project:
- Maintain the buildings and layout as it is and restore all 74 units as safe, healthy apartments that are affordable on the neighborhood’s average income, especially for families making $20,000 per year and less
- Long-term affordability through the use of the state’s land trust, which would take the land out of the private, speculative real estate market and prevent gentrification
- Tenant control over decisions about the housing and land through a tenant union
- Local hiring for all contractors and laborers doing the rehabilitation work
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Barbara Freitas, Director of the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project (RIHAP), spoke about the experiences of the many people experiencing homelessness in Providence, especially abuse and neglect in the Southside at the hands of police and elected officials. “RIHAP is proud to stand with DARE in their demand that all 74 units at the Barbara Jordan II property are rented to families that meet HUD’s extremely low income and very low income criteria only.”
“Why would we need to go out to Chicago to tell us what we need here?” asked Leroy Belona, vice president of the Black Contractors Association. “We are here to support people who need housing and people who need jobs.”
Terri Wright, long-time Southside resident and tenant leader at DARE, spoke about the need to create a better future for the former Barbara Jordan II apartments. “Give tenants a fair chance, have love for thou neighborhood and make the community smile again with low-income housing for struggling families.”
The crowd that gathered outside carried heart-shaped signs with messages such as “Camiros, don’t be my Valentine,” and “Rent hikes got me broken-hearted.”
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