As Rhode Island Housing‘s Board of Commissioners met inside their offices at 44 Washington St. in Downtown Providence, DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality) held a demonstration outside challenging the use of a $50 million housing bond (Question 7) approved by voters in November. DARE says they are disappointed “that the program’s criteria targets higher income renters, includes no specifics on job creation and no genuine resident input on the needs for revitalization the program claims to address.”
Addressing the crowd on the sidewalk, Malchus Mills, DARE board member and leader of DARE’s Tenant and Homeowner Association (THA), said, “We have here a program that Rhode Island Housing [RIH] has kicked off called the Property Acquisition and Revitalization Program, which uses $10 million of the affordable housing bond. We are here to let [RIH] know that they have to use the bond for what it was originally sanctioned for, and that is to help low and lower income folks have an apartment, stay in their apartment, and help them have some stability in their life.”
In June DARE protested the Rhode Island Housing (RIH) meeting “to make clear that the current program guidelines will benefit well-off Rhode Islanders at the expense of low-income families in need of housing and jobs” and demand changes be made. However, despite DARE’s efforts, “In late July, RI Housing released the criteria for the bond program without including any of the changes we noted in our written comments, as well as in our protest and subsequent meeting with their staff.”
THA leaders demanded:
- income guidelines that target only the lowest income Rhode Islanders (30 – 60 percent of Area Median Income),
- criteria that target hiring to census tracts with the highest unemployment and poverty rates,
- an explicit ban on discriminating against those with criminal records,
- job training for new hires,
- health benefits, paid time off, and a living wage for workers remediating and building houses
- decision-making power over grants for local residents in communities where funded projects will be cited,
- a public report on how the money was spent and,
- open, public meetings
Providence City Councilor Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11) said that even before running for office she had supported affordable housing. RIH, said Harris, “must do what’s right at this time.” Of the $50 million approved by voters in November, $10 million was set aside for urban revitalization and blight remediation.
“When voters were persuaded to vote for this bond, they were told that the $10 million would be used to help cities and towns to revitalize vacant and foreclosed homes. This pool is now being made available to commercial development. That’s news to me. Because when I saw the presentation, I understood it to be for the millennials, for the seniors, for the homeless and for people who are struggling on low income.”
Michael Araujo, executive director of Rhode Island Jobs with Justice, said that the bond approved by voters demonstrated the generosity of the people in our state, but that “it doesn’t count for anything unless real jobs are attached to that. We have the second oldest housing stock in the country, we have a huge amount of work that needs to be done and real jobs have to be attached to it.”
The jobs, said Araujo, “have to include hiring criteria that would really put Providence and low-income residents at the center of any housing program. If you live in the community that the housing is going into you should have first dibs on those jobs. And those jobs should pay prevailing wages, should be meaningful, long term, and be considered part of the fabric of any housing program.
“We are asking that the [Property Acquisition and Revitalization Program] include very clear criteria like First Source, which DARE, Jobs with Justice worked for over twenty years to get passed. That it includes local control of the housing bond itself, the [housing] stock itself which is local control and local democracy which is something we haven’t seen. So often these housing bonds are passed from the top down. So often these bonds don’t include the voices of working families and poor families that are going to be living in these places.”
Malchus Mills closed the demonstration noting that RIH is meeting at 10am on a workday. This doesn’t allow for “real participation from the community,” said Mills. “They have these meetings at 8, 9, 10 in the morning when they know that everybody is working and nobody is there. Then they want to say, ‘Well, we had a meeting for public input.’ But how can the public have input if they’re working?”
The speeches outside the RIH offices were punctuated by music from the What Cheer? Band, which gave a raucous, challenging feel to the side walk demonstration. Below are all three songs by What Cheer? and pictures from the demonstration.