Rent stabilization in Providence? Mayoral candidate debuts plan to stabilize housing access

·4 min read
Providence mayoral candidate Gonzalo Cuervo rolled out a housing plan Monday that includes pushing for rent stabilization, an eviction diversion program, changes to zoning regulations and the establishment of a public developer that would boost the affordable housing supply.
Providence mayoral candidate Gonzalo Cuervo rolled out a housing plan Monday that includes pushing for rent stabilization, an eviction diversion program, changes to zoning regulations and the establishment of a public developer that would boost the affordable housing supply.

Providence mayoral candidate Gonzalo Cuervo on Monday rolled out an ambitious housing plan directed at addressing they city's affordability crisis, including a proposal for rent stabilization.

The multi-pronged plan, created with Reclaim RI – a progressive group that coalesced from ex-Bernie Sanders presidential campaign volunteers and has endorsed Cuervo – also includes an eviction-diversion program, changes to zoning regulations and the establishment of a public developer that would boost affordable housing supply.

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Reclaim's organizing director, Miguel Martinez Youngs, said Cuervo pledged support to its municipal housing plan, which the group is treating as a top priority.

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"We all know that the cost of housing in Providence is out of control, and it’s threatening to fundamentally change the character of this city we love," Cuervo said. "This is absolutely a crisis point, and we can’t keep blaming the market as though it’s a force that’s entirely out of our control."

Rent control in Providence becoming an election issue

While housing has been on every candidate's mind and a focal point during recent forums, rent control has even made its way into the City Council races, including Wards 4, 5, 6, and 14. It already has support from Councilwoman Rachel Miller, who is running for another term and was present at Cuervo's announcement.

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Miller, who lives in Ward 13 encompassing Federal Hill and part of the West End, said she continues to "see and hear from constituents who are living in an apartment that just a few years ago was at $1,300, $1,400 a month and is now being rented for $1,900, $2,000 a month."

What would rent control in Providence look like?

Cuervo's plan calls for annual rent increases to be capped at 4% a year for units at least 15 years old, "with limited exemptions made for newer rental properties," and an exemption for properties that "have been vacant for five years or more."

Cuervo said he supports the exemptions on new housing because he doesn't "want to create a process that stifles new development," suggesting it may spark "a lot of pushback” if any critics feel it hinders the creation of new, market-rate housing.

According to Cuervo, rent stabilization may require enabling legislation at the state level, and would require a city ordinance, making support from the council all the more crucial. However, the upcoming elections will determine whether progressive candidates find themselves a seat at the table.

At the same time, property owners are facing increased property-tax bills due to skyrocketing property values. Despite Mayor Jorge Elorza's move to cut such taxes, owners will find themselves paying more.

However, Cuervo contended that "rents have gone up an obscene level" that doesn't align with the property owners' increase in expenses.

"Many times, landlords will use the pretext of tax increases to actually profit from rent increases," he said. "Many times rent will go up two and three times the cost of the property-tax increase."

What do Cuervo's opponents say?

One of Cuervo's opponents, Brett Smiley, is the only candidate who does not support rent control. His spokeswoman, Emily Ward Cromwell, said it "has proven to be ineffective in other cities – there are too many people left out, landlords stop properly maintaining buildings and it does nothing to control costs or the tax burden on property owners."

"In Providence, many landlords are local, long-term residents," she said.

Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune supports rent stabilization, calling it "an opportunity for us to work with the state and organizations like [Direct Action for Rights and Equality], an organization which has been working on legislation on this issue for years."

"I would be interested to know where the 4% number came from as the cap for year-over-year rent increases," LaFortune added. "It seems to me that a flexible cap that is tethered to other market indicators would be a smarter approach."

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Providence mayoral candidate Gonzalo Cuervo proposes rent control