Blight battle rages in South Providence

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Several Providence residents believe their complaints about discarded piles of garbage and dilapidated buildings are being ignored, but a city spokesman claims there’s progress in the blight battle.

One collection of trash bags and broken furniture fills a lot and part of a yard on Burnside Street where Leonard Walker lives with his wife and child.

“We really can’t let our kid in the yard to play,” Walker said. “Providence has its own mice and rat problem. So, having something like this is pretty much a mansion for (pests).”

Walker’s wife Denys said she contacted the city and even sent a video featuring what she calls a “mini landfill.” Four other neighbors said they complained to the city as well through the on-line service ProvConnex. Others said they called by phone.

“Most of the time it was, we’ll get back to you. They seemed like they wanted to sweep it under the rug,” Walker said.

Mayor Angel Taveras’ spokesman David Ortiz said the owner of the Burnside property was fined $50 earlier this month.

Less than a mile away, on a city sidewalk on Melrose Street, we found another pile of trash. Helene Gerstle said that area has been a dumping ground for mattresses.

“There were eleven mattresses here at one point,” Gerstle said. “Workers came and took them away but they left the trash.”

She showed us a stack of emails she has sent to the city, complaining about the dumping. City employees have responded at times, but Gerstle said no one has done anything to stop what she called “serial dumping” in one email.

“This is just unacceptable from the city. We’ve been working for five months to get this lot (on Melrose) cleaned up. This is just indicative of the lack of services we receive in Elmwood and South Providence,” Gerstle said.

Ortiz told Target 12 the city is making progress on blight. He said one weapon is the clean-and-lien program. The city identifies problem properties, cleans up what the owner won’t and then slaps a lien on the property to potentially recoup the cost.

According to Ortiz, clean-and-lien has been used on at least 27 properties this year, including eight in South Providence.

“None of the properties were on the East Side,” Ortiz said.

Assistant City Solicitor Sean Creegan said the property’s address does not play a role in the city’s clean-and- lien formula.

“When we prioritize our clean-and-lien list, we look at how much trash is there, whether there’s a rat problem and other issues,” Creegan said. “There are a lot of properties but we are going through our list as fast as possible.”

Gerstle is not convinced. As a Providence family strung Christmas decorations on their Colfax Street porch, Gerstle referenced the boarded up multi-family next door, with a yard littered by junk.

Again, Gerstle showed us emails, dating back to July, asking the city to do something about the mess on Colfax. She also sent a letter directly to Mayor Taveras, but did not get a response.

“I think there’s discriminatory services handed out by the city of Providence. We just don’t get the services. This would not be allowed to exist on the East Side for five months. It just wouldn’t.”

In an email to Gerstle, Director of Providence Neighborhood Services Pleshette Mitchell wrote “there were 41 incidents of illegal dumping” reported to the Department of Public Works in August alone. In another email, Mitchell indicated she has “a staff of 3” to respond to complaints that run as high as 60 a day.

Ortiz told Target 12 he will look into the complaints filed from South Providence. But from the mountain of debris on Burnside to the littered sidewalk on Melrose, Gerstle claims the neighborhood is not treated the same as other parts of the city.

“We all know that, in this neighborhood. Though the city tells us something different, actions speak louder than words,” Gerstle said.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau

Copyright WPRI 12

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