Providence’s plan to acquire vacant homes moving forward

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Elorza administration’s plan for taking control of more than 100 vacant or abandoned properties throughout most of the city is close to getting the green light.

The Providence City Council has already given first approval to the special redevelopment plan for vacant houses, a proposal that would allow the Providence Redevelopment Agency to use its broad powers to acquire properties through eminent domain proceedings, purchase, tax sale or by having existing homeowners agree to “gift” their properties to the agency.

The council’s second and final vote on the matter will be Nov. 2.

Elorza, a Democrat who is planning to seek re-election next year, has spent the bulk of his first term in office attempting to find ways to address approximately 500 vacant or abandoned properties in Providence. But his signature program, known as EveryHome, has not produced the results as quickly as city officials hoped when it was launched in 2015.

EveryHome is a suite of tools that includes the city’s home receivership policy, capital investments to help assist with renovation plans for homes and removal of blighted properties from the onerous tax sale process. In 2015, Elorza pledged to eliminate nearly all of the abandoned homes within six years.

The PRA could jumpstart the process using the sweeping power it has under state law to make make changes to blighted and substandard areas, including the ability to issue bonds.

Under the plan, the quasi-public agency will seek to acquire up to 136 properties – mostly multi-family homes – using a variety of strategies, including eminent domain. (The list initially included more than 300 homes.) The city has not said how much the PRA intends to spend on the project.

Once the properties are controlled by the PRA, the agency intends to seek qualified developers to purchase them. The PRA will select developers based on their ability to “undertake the work in a timely manner, the developer’s previous development work, the developer’s intention to provide affordable housing and hire locally, and the developer’s plan to engage with and market properties to the local community,” according to documents provided by the city.

The Elorza administration has also invited officials from the Tennessee-based nonprofit Neighborhood Preservation, Inc. (NPI) to travel to Providence next month to discuss how the city “will promote its own collaborative, cross-sector initiative to renovate vacant and abandoned buildings,” according to Emily Crowell, a spokesperson for the mayor.

A community conversation of the redevelopment plan will be held Nov. 6 at the Providence Career and Technical Academy.

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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