Mayor Elorza’s vacant property program spared as council backs off attempt to defund

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

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Mayor Jorge Elorza’s signature program that seeks to eliminate vacant properties throughout Providence has been saved from the chopping block.

In a spending plan approved by the City Council Urban Redevelopment and Renewal Committee (URRP) this week, the EveryHome program will receive $200,000 in federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. The overall CDBG budget is $5 million.

The council previously sought to zero out the mayor’s $400,000 request to fund EveryHome with CDBG dollars, arguing that the program has not been effective in eliminating blighted properties across the city. The council wanted to use the EveryHome funding for a separate program designed to assist homeowners with repairs.

But Elorza publicly threatened to veto the entire CDBG budget, a prospect that could have resulted in the city losing the entire $5-million allocation. Following Council President Luis Aponte’s indictment last week, other council leaders met with Elorza to resolve their differences.

The full council must still approve the budget.

“I’m pleased to have worked collaboratively with the City Council and the URRP committee to craft a CDBG budget that reflects the priorities of all residents,” Elorza said in a statement. “This budget will allow us to continue the effective community development that is elevating Providence as an outstanding place to live, visit, and do business in.”

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 claim 43 properties have been completely rehabilitated through receivership and another 34 are currently going through the process, but they have failed to provide Eyewitness News with a list a properties that have benefited from the program.

Aside from EveryHome, the CDBG budget sets aside $409,000 for 10 community centers, $386,000 for 20 nonprofit organizations and $680,000 for economic development grants to several programs. The budget also sets aside $920,000 for facility improvements and $735,000 for various projects in each of the city’s 15 wards.

Another $850,000 will go to a housing program that supports people with AIDS, while $425,000 will be set aside for programs that assist homeless people. About $1.2 million is earmarked for affordable housing programs.

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