How Mayor Elorza plans to fix most of Providence’s abandoned homes

Mayor Elorza unveils his plan to address more than 500 vacant properties in the city. (Photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The mayor of Rhode Island’s capital city promised Tuesday to rid the city of all of its abandoned properties within six years, unveiling an ambitious plan to either seize and rehabilitate or demolish between 500 and 600 vacant structures.

The program, known as EveryHome, consists of a “suite of tools” that includes expanding the city’s existing home receivership policy, providing capital to help jumpstart renovation plans for homes throughout Providence and removing blighted properties from the onerous tax sale process.

“We want to turn a vicious cycle into a virtuous cycle,” Mayor Jorge Elorza said during an afternoon press conference in the city’s Silver Lake neighborhood, just blocks from his Deborah Street home. Elorza is a former Providence Housing Court judge.Elorza Every Home Map

State law allows municipalities to petition local housing courts to appoint a receiver for properties that have been abandoned by homeowners and banks. The receiver is tasked with securing funds to rehabilitate the properties and then overseeing their sale.

Elorza said about 50 Providence properties are currently in receivership with another 50 structures expected to enter the process before the end of the year. He said the goal is to address about 100 properties a year for the next six years.

In order to take the receivership process to scale, Elorza said the city is partnering with Rhode Island Housing to create a $3-million revolving loan fund receivers can tap to hire construction companies to rehabilitate properties. The city is also seeking to partner with local banks to provide receivers with additional capital.

The city has also streamlined the receivership process by removing vacant properties from its tax sale list and placing them in the hands of receivers.

Each spring, the city holds a tax sale for all property deemed seriously delinquent on taxes, allowing third parties to swoop in and pay the tax bill in exchange for securing a tax lien on the property. After that the property owner has a year and a day to pay the third party taxes and interest. If the bill isn’t paid, the third party can take the title on the property. But vacant properties in need of a lot of work are rarely bought during the process.

Under EveryHome, the blighted structures can be fast-tracked for receivership, allowing for a quicker turnaround during the construction phase. Elorza did acknowledge that some properties will be demolished rather than rehabilitated, but he didn’t say how many would be eliminated altogether.

While no local budget money has been earmarked for the project, Elorza said the city has set aside $1 million in federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to help address vacant properties this year. Elorza said about 60% of the city’s vacant properties won’t require any subsidies, but the rest will need some type of taxpayer-funded support.

Another $100,000 in federal dollars has been set aside to help homeowners on the verge of losing their properties with bridge loans to make home repairs, the mayor said.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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