Gentrification in Providence

December 4, 2008

FIVE YEARS ago, the Struever Brothers first developed the Rising Sun Mills on Valley Street in a section of Providence called Olneyville. They received a $5 million tax break.

In exchange for the tax break, they would provide some low-income housing and do hiring in that community--but they didn't. They said they would set aside 31 low-income apartments, but only provided five. The people living on the next street (Tuxedo Street) saw their property taxes skyrocket even higher than the rest of the neighborhood--100 percent in some cases.

All Struever Brothers commercial and residential developments are high-end. On November 25, some members of the International Socialist Organization went to a hearing where Struever Brothers asked the city council for another tax break. This time, they publicly asked for $8 million, but behind closed doors, they were really asking for a $22 million tax break.

The proposal for the new development, named "ALCO" for the American Locomotive Works, is a joke. A very small portion of the apartments would be set aside for people making 60 percent of the median family income.

The only thing is that the statistics that Struever Brothers are using to calculate that median income are far greater than the average median income for that section of Providence, which is actually only about $25,357. The number being used by the Struever Brothers is $68,300--and 60 percent of that would be about $40,000.

Most of the units they are going to be building will be studios and one-bedroom apartments for a single person without children. So $40,000 a year for a family is hardly representative of the families living in Olneyville or many other Providence neighborhoods.

The rents Struever Brothers are proposing would range from $1,200 to 1,800 a month. Condos will sell for $300,000 to 450,000. Additionally, only 10 percent of the profits will go toward community initiatives like affordable housing.

Struever Brothers stands to make millions, and only 10 percent will go towards the community? This is outrageous. The development will only drive up property values. Already, over 30 small businesses have been displaced, and who knows how many families have been driven away?

In this predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, residents who are low income will be forced to leave due to higher rents. This type of tactic will only serve as an ethnic cleanser for that area. When all is said and done, this is just another tax break for the rich--a tax break that Struever Brothers needs in order to move forward with the project.

They are using public funds in order to make massive profits, in another case of privatizing the profits and socializing the losses. It's like a bailout, only in this case, the city itself would be participating in the gentrification of this richly diverse area.

UNITE HERE Local 217, Direct Action for Rights and Equality, the Olneyville Neighborhood Association, and several other community organizations turned out to the city council meeting and are urging the council to vote no on this proposal.
Mayra Paulino, Providence, R.I.

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