Fox Point Manor tenants speak out against years of abuseInterwoven with these long histories of gentrification and displacement, Canning Management, the building’s management company, continues to deny Fox Point Manor tenants adequate housing and neglects to address their specific concerns. Their noticeably sparse website boasts that Canning Management, based in Cranston, Rhode Island, is a “fully integrated multifamily real estate company that excels in the management of affordable and conventional housing.” CM claims to create a “culture of respect, understanding, and reciprocity,” but tenants disagree, with one writing, “I can say without reservation [that] the management have created a fear-culture.”
Published on October 26, 2021
By Hanna Aboueid and Kolya Shields
The following piece originally ran in The College Hill Independent, reprinted with permission.
This past July, Fox Point Manor (FPM) tenants gathered in the basement of the local Boys & Girls Club to demand that FPM management and the Providence Housing Authority ensure them adequate housing conditions. The tenants met across the street from their homes in a basement meeting room, unable to use their own common spaces because similar meetings had been forbidden by FPM management in the past. After a decade of writing letters to elected officials detailing abuse, harassment, and neglect by Canning Management (CM), the building’s managing company, the tenants met with lawyers, public officials, and community members to share their stories and outline their vision of a better future. They emphasized the precarity of their current living situations. Living under the perpetual threat of homelessness, they constantly fend off eviction threats and other forms of harassment by CM staff at the expense of their mental and physical health. In fact, Gloria Isaaco, the Resident Services Coordinator, was standing outside the Fox Point Boys & Girls Club the day of the meeting, keeping track of who was entering the building. Her presence serves as a stark example of the surveillance and control CM seeks to exert over its tenants, and the challenges these tenants face when organizing against large property corporations. CM, laws that empower them, and a lack of oversight have created and upheld violent and discriminatory housing conditions for the 112 people who live in FPM. These include mental health-based discrimination, harassment, and mental abuse. FPM has also failed to provide proper and safe living conditions, with residents describing insect and rodent infestations, constantly broken elevators, unclean water, faulty home appliances, leaky roofs, and more.
The College Hill Independent talked to five tenants, attended several community meetings, and gained access to ten letters written to Manor management and local elected officials calling for help and demanding change. The letters date back to at least 2009, though they recount abuses that have been ongoing for at least 17 years. All of the letters reflect an ever-present urgency to the tenants’ complaints and CM’s decades-long refusal to act on residents’ demands for safe and healthy housing. Four of the letters are signed by five or more tenants, highlighting tenants’ struggle to organize to have their rights realized. Letters talk of a “culture of fear” that management have cultivated, and specifically a “fear of retribution” for tenants who give feedback and complaints. A letter to Senator Whitehouse is anonymously signed, “the tenants of Fox Point,” because, according to the letter, after a previous letter included names, they were “passed onto management by a member of [Whitehouse’s] staff… [and] EACH AND EVERY PERSON WHO SIGNED THE LETTER WAS HARASSED.” FPM management have threatened and continue to threaten eviction through trumped-up letters of non-compliance. Many of the letters are signed anonymously, and the Indy is keeping the signed letters anonymous to protect tenants’ safety. The tenants we spoke to, who continue to organize for dignity and rights, have also chosen to remain anonymous.
Fox Point Manor stands at the end of Wickenden Street, the constant roar of I-95 trickling into every one of its 99 units. It is part of the Housing Choice Voucher program, better known as “Section 8 Housing,” which is a type of federally subsidized housing for families and elderly or disabled people. Unlike Public Housing, where local housing authorities get federal funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to own properties, Section 8 Housing tenants rent in the private market. The Providence Housing Authority receives money from HUD and enters into contracts with private landlords whose housing must meet requirements such as sufficient storage space, outlets, and cleanliness. Renters must be below a certain location-based income limit ($30,450 a year in Providence), and then pay at least 30 percent but not more than 40 percent of their income towards rent and utilities, with the rest subsidized.
The FPM apartments are specifically intended for elderly and disabled renters—93 percent are over 61, and 27 percent are disabled, according to 2020 Census HUD Data. The racial makeup of the apartments is similar to Providence as a whole: non-white renters make up 40 percent of the population, five percent less than the city. Multiple tenants told us that they’d “lived on the streets” before moving to FPM and that these subsidized units were the only way they could find housing. These vulnerabilities are directly connected to Brown’s real estate legacy.
Brown University’s expansion into the Providence housing market has driven up rents near College Hill and pushed more people out of Fox Point and into subsidized housing. As its name suggests, FPM is embedded into Fox Point, a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood that many Cape Verdean residents have been pushed out of by rising rents connected to Brown and redevelopment. In the 1950s, Brown University bought land on College Hill—expanding the university towards Fox Point, demolishing buildings to build new university structures, driving up rents, and displacing residents who had lived there for generations. Rents rose astronomically as Brown got bigger and closer to Fox Point. In the 1970s, the student population in Fox Point increased by 66 percent. This continues into today, as Brown snatches up more property on both sides of the river, from the Jewelry District to Brook Street, increasing rent prices and pushing out the most vulnerable residents. One of the tenants we spoke to, after asking if we were Brown students, emphatically told us to “tell [Brown] to stop buying property… that’s one of the things that really bugs me about you guys.” Not being able to pay rent in a gentrifying Fox Point feeds into the power dynamics of abuse at FPM—if FPM is your only affordable option, a threat of eviction in response to complaints and organizing becomes far more impactful.
Interwoven with these long histories of gentrification and displacement, Canning Management, the building’s management company, continues to deny Fox Point Manor tenants adequate housing and neglects to address their specific concerns. Their noticeably sparse website boasts that Canning Management, based in Cranston, Rhode Island, is a “fully integrated multifamily real estate company that excels in the management of affordable and conventional housing.” CM claims to create a “culture of respect, understanding, and reciprocity,” but tenants disagree, with one writing, “I can say without reservation [that] the management have created a fear-culture.”
Tenants’ grievances range from inadequate building maintenance to antagonistic and dehumanizing management. Of the ten letters the Indy obtained, five letters claimed that there was purposeful and manipulative irregular application of the rules, and all of the letters described dissatisfaction with management’s actions. For example, in a letter signed by a group of tenants, they describe how management “has been conducting spot checks wherein their staff sniff the hallways, and using a master key open doors with no knock or notice.” Legally, inspections must have a legitimate reason, and cannot be pretextual, or intended to find legitimate reasons through the search. Eight letters describe unsanitary living conditions, noting that “some days the water runs orange,” “water and sewage back[ing] up into the sink,” and there are “infestations of rodents… bedbugs, and roaches.” They write that a common room that is a key source of cooling for people who often can’t afford AC units or have broken units and “who if they don’t have access to an air-conditioned room… suffer,” is still closed after over a year due to COVID-19. Tenants explain that CM practices blatant racial, sexual, and mental-health-based discrimination when it comes to enforcing rules and regulations, targeting tenants who are either in particularly vulnerable positions or ones that stand up to their abuse more often. One tenant says “I see people who are too afraid to complain about the condition of their apartment… [who] feel their status as residen[t]… could be in jeopardy, or in fear of some sort of retaliation.”
Even employees working for Canning Management have expressed concern about how tenants are treated. A gardener who worked for FPM wrote an email corroborating many tenants’ claims, claiming “harassment… and vicious examples of cruelty… against a disabled woman… [and] against two extremely old ladies.” The letter described management conducting excessive re-inspections of rooms whose residents have immense anxiety, and sending letters of non-compliance, often threatening evictions, for “insulting a worker,” cases which the gardener describes as“ just plain wrong and absurd.” Many of the tenants most vocal about the harassment are elderly women—one letter was written by a man who said he “get[s] along well with management,” but that he sees “retaliation” from the management after complaints, and says that women are “treated as children… with no ownership of the program.” Another letter writes of a pattern of gendered harassment, saying that “management does not bully or harass men in any way that I can see,” although they also note that the men may simply not want to talk about it.
An especially prominent figure in most tenants’ stories of harassment and abuse is Karen Fagundes, a property manager who has been working with CM for over 20 years. Described by tenants as “hostile,” “irrational,” “a bully,” and “a pathological liar,” Fagundes is the face of CM and its abuse for many FPM residents. In one letter, a group of tenants wrote that “Karen [Fagundes] must go. No one trusts her. She is petty, cruel, and abusive. She is waging war against the tenants using her qualification as an Accredited Residential Manager as her defense.” One tenant asserted that they absolutely needed a restraining order against her; another told us that their doctor had to reach out to Fagundes on multiple occasions because Fagundes was constantly harassing the tenant and exacerbating their acute anxiety.
Tenants recounted impromptu inspections during which management would try to find any flaw in the way they lived in their homes. One day, suddenly “everything had to be moved at least a foot from the baseboard heater,” including shoeboxes that had been there for 7+ years. A tenant noted “management present… having normally dirty floors as a moral lapse, or even a sin,” and that during an inspection a supervisor said that because of houseplants on a windowsill, “firefighters could prick themselves, and couldn’t get inside [the room].” One tenant described management targeting tenants who wrote letters of complaint or went to community meetings, using these over-blown inspections and regulations to police tenant action and organizing. This tenant received letters of non-compliance and threats of eviction, directly connecting this “vindictive and unprofessional behavior” to her complaints about living conditions and harassment. One tenant told a story about how Fagundes reacted to a plumbing problem in their apartment. Because of an accumulation of hair in the drain of the tenant’s bathtub, they were experiencing some plumbing issues and, as per building policy, contacted management to get someone from maintenance to address the problem. Karen then proceeded to berate the tenant for the ‘damage’ and went so far as to claim that the tenant needed to cut their hair to keep this from happening again
Fagundes’ behavior is certainly not unique, though. Many of those same complaints were leveled against Gloria Isacco, the Resident Services Coordinator, and Anne Reynolds, another property manager with CM. Both have been described as “hostile,” “incompetent,” and blatantly “apathetic” towards the residents they claim to provide services for. When speaking of their relationship with management officials, one tenant said, “It’s almost like a war of attrition; they keep pushing in hopes that you’ll get tired, die, or move.”
Housing abuses do not start and end with individuals, however, and they cannot be solved by removing hostile officials. Cruel property managers and coordinators are the symptom of a housing system that relies on evictions, poverty, power abuse, and intentional disrepair. Figures such as Isacco and Fagundes serve as the foot soldiers of Canning Management’s abuse, but the problem tenants are facing is much larger than Fox Point Manor itself. The US public housing system often acts as yet another avenue through which the state can police, surveil, and dehumanize populations they deem ‘undesirable.’ 45 percent of public housing residents are Black, and the vast majority are low income. Subsidized housing is a key tool in fighting housing insecurity, but without proper oversight and more power in tenants’ hands, the inherent power imbalance of residents who often have little housing choice creates conditions for abuse.
As many of the tenants told us, it seems that one’s dependence on subsidized housing automatically strips them of their right to privacy and self-autonomy. In response to a demand by Isacco to remove the plants from their windowsill, one tenant wrote, “The Fox Point Manor management is trying to stamp out any sign of personality and individuality in the apartments. Plants on the window sill are normal. Is anyone going to tell the people living in the East Side or in Fox Point [that are not in subsidized housing] that they cannot have plants on their window sills because that will interfere with firefighters’ access[?] Of course not.” The same tenant goes on to write, “I believe that management at [FPM] is and has been violating our… civil rights and liberties… Management’s been aiming for over-control, and increasingly more and more power, which is not rightfully theirs to have.” These instances, and many more relayed to us by tenants, emphasize how dehumanizing public housing policies—whether real or imagined in this case—can be, as they deny people who rely on housing assistance certain rights, comforts, and avenues of self expression that are afforded to those who don’t need to rely on subsidized housing.
The public housing system has regulations in place that serve private management companies like CM and are invariably used against the tenants they claim to protect. Even the building’s maintenance workers, vendors, service coordinators, and mediators answer to CM, which corrupts their ability to serve the tenants’ needs. In response to an email sent by CM celebrating the building’s score of 90/100 from a 2012 HUD Inspection, one tenant wrote, “Of course you got a 90 — Can you prove you were not in collusion with the “independent” investigator who ignored tenants who wished to speak with him and instead spent 45 mins talking with Karen in front of the building??”
One of the main complaints that tenants level against their current housing conditions is the fact that there is very little transparency in the way of tenant rights. For example, a client was met with hostility when trying to get their freezer fixed and was unsure what their rights were. What are their rights in that situation? And how can they effectively go about making sure that right is upheld? The tenants assert that not only should these answers be provided to residents, but they should be easily accessible to all of them at a moment’s notice—keeping in mind the tenants’ range of neurodiversity and disability. FPM landlords like Gloria and Karen tend to capitalize on the lack of legal transparency and information accessibility, bulldozing the tenants with aggressive claims of ‘HUD violations’ knowing that they are afforded neither the time nor the resources to counter any of these claims.
One tenant said they simply want the truth about CM to be heard, loud and clear. While CM fashions itself as a harbinger of good fortune and community wellbeing, one tenant said that “they need to stop advertising it [FPM] as decent living.” Similarly, another tenant emphasized the importance of shedding light on CM’s abuse and maltreatment of FPM tenants. They said, “There needs to be pressure placed on the individuals who deliberately hurt others because they can. The members of this particular company are very susceptible to shaming… They want to be viewed as perfect.” The tenant maintained that increased public oversight of CM’s practices is a step towards keeping them in check.
FPM tenants have been organizing together for change for years. This resistance reflects a contestation of abusive landlord-tenant relationships and a more equitable vision of democratic subsidized housing. Tenants want and need a say in the management of FPM—as one tenant said, “What I personally would like to see is more teeth given to RI tenants advocacy group, the creation of a mediation step before any eviction goes to court… because this type of behavior needs to be checked.” Letters call for “proper and reliable management,” and say tenants are “treated like peasants,” attacking a lack of “[tenant] ownership.” One writer believes management is “aiming for over-control, and increasingly more and more power, which is not rightfully theirs to have,” laying out a vision for a more free FPM where tenants can share in power and avoid harassment. In the July tenant meeting, community members spoke of “wanting more freedom,” and “an end to the harassment [by management].” The Indy spoke to a tenant who suggested “open communication… [and] monthly meetings” where tenants could voice concerns and management could lay out clear expectations before immediately jumping to threatening evictions and letters of non-compliance. The long list of HUD requirements and inspection rules is meant to protect a living standard for tenants, but at FPM tenants describe management engaging in dehumanizing policing and surveillance—as one tenant said, “I feel like I’m living in a police state.” Another wrote, “The building feels more like a prison than an apartment home.”
It’s often assumed that US public housing will be subpar, and sometimes even justifiably so—that people shouldn’t be able to live in nice places without paying ‘their fair share.’ However, good housing is a human right, and something our government should provide for us without infringing on rights and humanity. Over and over tenants emphasized simple yet profound demands: clean, healthy living conditions, an end to vindictive harassment, open lines of communication, and a say in the way Fox Point Manor is run. After writing to Senator Whitehouse, city council members, and local housing officials for years, they are still facing abuse, and they are still organizing for change. Central to the power Canning Management holds over tenants is the precarity of tenants’ living conditions—as one letter detailed, “most [tenants] live under the federal poverty level. We cannot move.” Without a broad range of affordable options, the disproportionately low-income, disabled, and elderly residents are far more vulnerable to threats of eviction. In the face of this power imbalance, tenants are still meeting and organizing, envisioning a different model of public housing, with options, agency, and care. As a letter signed “the residents of Fox Point Manor” proclaims, “last time we checked, one did not give up their rights when moving into Section 8 housing.”
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