Providence has identified 747 vacant homes since Jan. 2016

Mayor Elorza discusses vacant properties. (Photo by Dan McGowan/WPRI 12)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Providence officials have identified 747 vacant or abandoned properties across the city since the beginning of last year, according to figures released Monday by the city’s law department.

The number of blighted properties is larger than Mayor Jorge Elorza projected in 2015 when he promised to eliminate between 500 and 600 of them using a suite of available tools that includes legal action, financial incentives and policy changes. He calls the program EveryHome.

In a presentation Monday to a group of more than 60 people at the Providence Career and Technical Academy, Ariel Pittner, the city’s newly hired EveryHome coordinator, explained that 218 of the identified vacant or abandoned properties now have people living in them and no code violations.

Pittner said another 320 properties are in the pipeline for some form of rehabilitation, while the rest are not currently being addressed. City officials maintain the vacant or abandoned property list is a moving target, in part because the status of every home in the city can’t be tracked on a daily basis.

Monday’s meeting also featured representatives from Neighborhood Preservation Inc. (NPI), a Memphis, Tennessee-based nonprofit that specializes in addressing nuisance properties. Kermit Lind, an attorney from NPI, explained that while the organization has worked with cities across the country on vacant and abandoned homes, no plan is “automatically transportable” from city to city.

Elorza, a former Providence Housing Court judge, initially made receivership a focal point of the EveryHome program, but the legal process moved more slowly than city officials anticipated; to date, only 15 properties have been rehabilitated through court-appointed receivers.

The bulk of “success” properties have come as a result of “market trends and reaction to policy changes,” Pittner said. She claims banks “learned their lesson in housing court and took care of the rest of their properties.”

The City Council voted last week to give final approval to a special redevelopment plan that will allow the quasi-public Providence Redevelopment Agency to acquire more than 100 vacant or abandoned homes through eminent domain proceedings, purchase, tax sale or by having existing homeowners agree to “gift” their properties to the agency. The city has still not released an estimate for how much the redevelopment plan will cost.

During a short speech, Elorza said too many properties “sit there boarded for weeks, months and even years.” He said the program is important because too many residents are experiencing homelessness. He also acknowledged that residents need to have a conversation about gentrification, although he didn’t expand on the topic.

“This is the time more than ever to continue to have this conversation about how we’re going to repurpose our abandoned properties,” Elorza, a Democrat, 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