As the crowd gathered outside Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza‘s offices on the second floor of City Hall chanted, “We’re not for sale!” one member stepped forward and began demolishing two piñatas. One was fashioned in the shape of slum housing and contained fake roaches, the other was fashioned in the shape of luxury condominiums and filled with $10,000,000 bills emblazoned with the faces of Elorza or Rhode Island Housing Director Barbara Fields.
The demolition of the piñatas was the capstone of an event held as part of the national Renter Week of Action by DARE (Direct Action for Rights and Equality). DARE members and supporters gathered to protest “increasingly unaffordable rents, poor housing conditions and public subsidies for high-end developers.” In addition, the group is demanding “municipal policy to control rent increases, effective remediation of unsafe and unhealthy apartments and an end to tax breaks and public subsidies for luxury apartments.”
At issue is RI Housing’s Acquisition and Revitalization Program (ARP) which is using $10 million of the recently passed $50 million affordable housing bond. DARE member and Southside tenant Terri Wright described how she voted for the bond in November, hoping that the money would help her and her adult daughter and son.
“The landlords of today do not want to keep apartments and houses safe and healthy for families with kids and the reason being is because they think, or they will tell you, that it costs too much for them to bring the house up to standards, which should be a law for every landlord to do,” said Malchus Mills, DARE member and Section 8 tenant. Mills described the unsafe and unhealthy conditions of apartments throughout Providence and described the difficulty of finding landlords that will accept his housing voucher.
In Providence, 57 percent of renter households are cost-burdened, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent, according to Housing Works RI’s 2016 Housing Factbook. If renters in Providence paid 30 percent of their income for rent they would have an additional $6,200 a year in their pockets says DARE, according to the National Equity Atlas.
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