“Actually,” said DARE’s Terri Wright, in the role of the developer Omni Group, “If you want low-income apartments, you can go down Broad Street, and take some of the abandoned properties and build your low-income housing there.“
“No! We don’t want that,” answered the community member. “We’ve been here and we want to stay here. This is our community.”
Just over 100 people gathered outside the former Citizen’s Bank building at intersection of Cranston and Westminster streets in Providence on Thursday evening for a rally and some street theater in opposition to the development of market-rate apartments at the site. The event was organized by DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality), along with allies, including the South Providence Neighborhood Association (SBNA).
The street theater portion of the rally was a reenactment of Providence’s City Planning Commission (CPC) meeting, held on Zoom, that greenlighted Omni Group’s development of the site despite the opposition of residents. Omni Group, a for-profit real estate developer, with high-end properties in Providence, plans to build one-bedroom, $1,400 – $1,800 apartments. Residents are calling the project gentrification, noting that these apartments have been priced out of the range of the area’s residents.
In the performance, community members acted as community members, and DARE’s own Terri Wright played the developer. A cardboard frame was held between the actors and the audience, to provide the feeling of a Zoom meeting. Community members would voice their concerns, asking, for instance, how many Black contractors would be involved in the project. (Answer: “We deal with our own contractors. They are our building partners. That’s who we plan to build with.”) By law, 10% of the work on projects like this have to go to minority contractors. In practice, this law is never enforced.
“Let me remind you: A lawsuit cannot stop us. But we will sue you if you o not approve this permit,” continued Wright, in the role of the developer, receiving a chorus of boos.
The play continued, with another community member asking how many units in the development would be reserved and used for low-income and affordable housing.
“Zero,” answered Wright.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” responded the community member. “Nothing in this area? That’s not right.”
“Actually,” continued Wright, still in the role of Omni Group, “If you want low-income apartments, you can go down the street, and take some of the abandoned properties and build your low-income housing there.”
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“No, we don’t want that,” answered the community member. “We’ve been here and we want to stay here. This is our community.”
Leroy, from the Black Contractors Association, complained about the City of Providence not enforcing the law.
The play continued with the CPC delivering an empty box to the community, and a green light to the developer. When asked what the developer is offering the community, Teri Wright replied, “To spruce up this building, because it’s an eyesore.”
The rally then moved into a series of speakers, starting with Dwayne Keys, who leads the South Providence Neighborhood Association.
“We want to have policies that are inclusive, not segregationist,” said Keys. “Let’s call it what it is… This is not just about a building and a structure. This is one of many battles in a war for the soul of our city. What type of city do we want to be?
“Remember, we have some folks holding political positions who want to be anti-racist and yet the process, and this project, is inherently racist,” continued Keys. “We have some folks who just announced an anti-displacement and comprehensive housing plan, while at the same time allowing a project to go through that is going to displace. We want to be the creative capitol, and yet we’re not allowing the creativity of folks to simply say, ‘No.'”
Catarina Lorenzo and Yesmina from AMOR:
Alicia, an organizer with the George Wiley Center:
Malchus Mills from DARE: