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City holds community conversation about vacant and abandoned properties

The City of Providence hosted a community conversation at Providence Career and Technical Academy about how to repurpose and revitalize vacant and abandoned property last night. The event included community development leaders from the University of Memphis Law School, who will inspect various blighted properties in the city and give recommendations how to fix the problem.

Mayor Jorge Elorza gave a speech about the urgency of remediating these vacant and abandoned to the group of a about hundred Rhode Islanders.

“These vacant, abandoned, blighted properties – they’re a scourge on our neighborhoods,” Mayor Elorza said. “They bring down property value, they invite crime and it’s such a shame that we have so many abandoned properties, but at the same time we have so many people on the streets and homeless.”

Elorza also talked about the reforms that the city has made thus far, like the EveryHome Initiative, which puts local businesses to work rehabilitating and filling every boarded and abandoned property.

727 properties in Providence were vacant and abandoned last year. Now, 218 of those properties have become occupied and violation-free since the implementation of EveryHome, according to the program’s director Ariel Pinter.

However, Joe Schilling, fellow at Neighborhood Preservation, Inc., a nonprofit that works to occupy abandoned properties, stressed that the purposes of the forum was not to discuss past accomplishments, but to hear from community members.

“Often times you can have all the great laws and strategies and tools, but it’s the power of groups and the wisdom of crowds that really takes these strategies and puts them into action,” Schilling said.

Attendees were put into groups and told to discuss three questions: What’s working? What needs improvement? And what can we do? After these small group sessions, the discussion, facilitated by Schilling and his colleagues, was open to everyone.

“I’ve seen the neighborhood deteriorate,” said Teresa Guaba, a lifelong resident of Providence. “It’s always been a paradigm for people growing up in this neighborhood that’s it’s normalized that we have blighted buildings, blighted properties and abandoned vacant properties. I just don’t think that should be normal for any children or youth growing up in a neighborhood.”

Guaba also said that there could have been a lot more people who are actually directly impacted by the abandoned properties at the forum had the city advertised the forum more in advance.

“It wasn’t a failure. It was a beginning,” Guaba says. “It was the beginning of the conversation that needs to be had and needs to be followed through with.”

The city plans to have similar forums in the future where the representatives from the University of Memphis Law School discuss their findings and suggestions for the city.

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