Members of DARE’s Tenant and Homeowner Association (THA) rallied on Saturday to demand the redevelopment of Barbara Jordan II apartments for low and very-low income residents of Providence. They marched through the streets of the Barbara Jordan II apartments, which have long been empty, demanding that all 74 units be restored and made affordable to very-low income tenants ($20,000 per year or less). They are also demanded that the property remain affordable permanently, through the use of the state’s Land Trust, and that the rehabilitation work be done by local contractors and laborers.
“What’s happening with Barbara Barbara Jordan II is that [Rhode Island Housing] brought a consulting firm in from Chicago to talk with the community and supposedly to engage with the community, to have community input about what Barbara Jordan is to look like and what Barbara Jordan is to be after rehab,” said Malchus Mills, DARE Board member and THA leader. “We talked mostly about affordability and that the folks in the area could not afford the the rent that that was going to be asked for.”
The current plan is to make the apartments available to people who make in excess of $60,000 per year, said Mills. “Now we know that most folks in this area probably clear no no more than $31,000 per year so what we tried to do was to have them go by the census track which will give them a better idea of the area.”
The current plan calls for former Barbara Jordan II occupants to be given the right of first refusal on 34 apartments. DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality) wants all 74 apartments to be made into truly affordable housing.
“57 percent of renters in Providence are cost burdened, meaning that we all pay over 30 percent of our income for rent and utilities,” said Mills. “Now with us doing that there’s not much money left… The majority of people in Providence rent- that’s 68 percent of the city’s residents. 80 percent of those folks are of low income earners.”
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Mills said that there is a projected need for 34,000 housing units in Providence, of which at least 27,000 need to be for low-income folks.
“We also asked that Providence based women and minority-owned contractors get get most of the work that’s being done, [at Barbara Jordan II],” said Mills. “Residents, especially those residents from census tracts with high unemployment, should be able to secure all of the work involved in the construction project.”
DARE is also demanding that the apartments and land remain affordable for the long term: more than 30 years. “Tenants in the future [must have] decision making power by way of a union and board representation and through tenant cooperatives [that] have wealth generating ownership opportunities,” said Mills.
“Last, but not least, we also asked for at three neighborhood residents holding decision-making positions on the committee that decides, considers and selects the developer that that wins the application,” said Mills.
Mills read from a letter from Rhode Island Housing responding to some, but not all, of DARE’s demands. Needless to say, the response from Rhode Island Housing was lacking, and few of DARE’s demands were accomodated.
“Low-income families are looking for affordable housing so they can provide for their families in a decent and affordable way,” said Brenda Taylor, a DARE volunteer. “Barbara Jordan should and will be affordable housing for those families to live and enjoy.”
“I think we all know and we understand more than anything that people need sometimes second and even more chances to build back their lives and also give back to a community,” said Barbara Freitas, Director of the Rhode Island Homeless Advocacy Project (RIHAP). “I mean, this is a community. This isn’t just a bunch of houses and a bunch of people just happen to live here. This is a community. People care about one another. That’s why you’re all here. So we demand that all people of color, the LGBTQ population, folks with criminal records and families experiencing homelessness be given a chance to not only have a home but also to become part of the neighborhood, because that part of the neighborhood was lost we need to get it back to where it belongs: To the people.”
“AMOR supports the most vulnerable members of our community,” said Catarina Lorenzo, one of the Directors of AMOR (Alliance to Mobilize Our Resistance). “The majority of our members are renters. They do not have the resources to buy a house. I do not know any people who have a house because every time I have a meeting, it’s in a rental place.”
“We have to change the mindset of what a homeless person looks like. They’re not people that are on drugs or alcohol. These are your brothers, your sisters, your neighbors, your aunt – These are hard working people. They work 9 to 5. Some people work three jobs and they still can’t afford the rent that they want nowadays,” said Mahalia Perez, who lead the march from DARE to Barbara Jordan II. “We are fighting to give Barbara Jordan back to low-income people that can’t afford regular market rates. We need the community. We need people like you, your family members, to fight with us.
“They’re slowly but surely trying to push us out,” continued Perez. “They’re gentrifying your neighborhood. They’re building things in your neighborhood and they’re not even telling you what they’re building! So we need you, the community, the people that live in this area, to fight along with DARE and other programs that are speaking for you!”
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