City Council wants to defund Mayor Elorza’s program for vacant homes

Providence City Council chambers. (Photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Mayor Jorge Elorza’s program to eliminate vacant properties throughout the city is facing a $400,000 cut as members of the City Council seek to reallocate the funding to a different home repair program they consider more effective.

The council’s proposed spending plan for Providence’s federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding transfers all of the money Elorza requested for the EveryHome initiative to a program designed to assist homeowners with repairs that will help them avoid minor property violations.

“We believe we have given them enough,” Councilwoman Sabina Matos said Tuesday, referring to the EveryHome program. Matos chairs the committee tasked with vetting the CDBG budget, which officials project will be about $4.6 million for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

Elorza launched EveryHome in 2015, promising to use a suite of tools to eliminate all of the city’s 600 vacant properties within six years. The program called for the city to expand its home receivership process and provide funding for developers seeking to rehabilitate properties. The mayor’s first budget included $1 million in CDBG funds for the program; in the current fiscal year, EveryHome is getting $318,000.

But councilors have been wary of the program since its inception, often questioning whether the receivership process is the best way to address vacant homes. They regularly point out that the Silver Lake property Elorza used as a backdrop at his press conference to unveil EveryHome remains vacant.

Administration officials have acknowledged the receivership program was more tedious than they anticipated, but they claim 43 properties have been completely rehabilitated through receivership and another 34 are currently going through the process. Last month officials said they want to use the Providence Redevelopment Agency to acquire more than 300 vacant properties through eminent domain proceedings, purchase, tax sale or by having existing homeowners gift their properties to the agency.

It’s unclear if the plan to acquire properties will move forward if funding for EveryHome is zeroed out. All of the program’s funding comes from the CDBG budget, according to Emily Crowell, a spokesperson for Elorza.

“We look forward to continuing to rehabilitate vacant and abandoned properties and improve neighborhoods citywide,” Crowell said.

President Donald Trump has proposed eliminating the $3-billion CDBG program altogether, but that plan needs to be approved by Congress.

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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