Last night, there was yet another senseless murder in our community, and I am deeply troubled by this event and the recent violent crimes we have seen all across Providence.
I continue to search for answers as to why this is happening in our City. Understandably, so many feel significant unrest due to all that we are facing, not just as a city but as a nation. Violent crime is up all over the country, and pundits and others have given us several different reasons for this. Still, I am asking our community to work together to support each other and to be responsive, and if you see something, say something.
We are living in a divisive time, unlike anything I have seen before. Our community is suffering, and the daily news reports of yet another person shot, or stabbed, or kidnapped is leaving many in our community at wit’s end. Our residents remain afraid. So many of our residents have felt trapped in their own homes due to the virus, and now that anxiety has been compounded by the fear of violent crime. None of us want to live like this.
I’m asking the community, our elected leaders, and our community leaders to come together to work to find solutions to the troubles that we are facing. No one can fix these issues alone. It will take all of us to do our part. I am pledging my support today to do whatever I can to build bridges and find solutions.
Lastly, I send my deepest condolences to the friends and family of Dante Mann, who so tragically lost his life last night.
Pedro J. Espinal
Providence City Council
Councilman – Ward 10
At last week’s City Council meeting, the Council approved a resolution proposed by the Committee on Finance to extend the City’s contract with Waste Management of Rhode Island by three years. Led by Chairman John J. Igliozzi, Esq. (Ward 7), the Finance Committee has deliberated over necessary improvements in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and environmental concerns.
“The contract with Waste Management was very one-sided and didn’t benefit the needs of our residents. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the City has seen a larger amount of waste due to many people and families working from home, and some people are illegally dumping bulky items on the side of the road. This can lead to unsafe and unsanitary conditions in our neighborhoods. I am confident that this contract will make Waste Management more efficient and reliable while also helping residents save some money,” stated Chairman John J. Igliozzi, Esq.
This contract includes a commitment to embracing green initiatives, such as better access to recycling for residents and the use of waste collection vehicles powered by natural gas. Additionally, the contract has been amended to eliminate fees for mattress and box spring collection to residents beginning in January of 2022. Currently, the cost for mattress collection is $26, which has proven to be too expensive for many residents.
“This plan will not only promote public health by keeping our City clean and green, but it will also promote the financial health of Providence residents by making important waste management services such as mattress collection free as of January 1, 2022. I spend almost every Saturday driving through Ward 8 and picking up discarded mattresses. With so many in our communities on fixed incomes or not working due to the current pandemic, we need to provide relief when and where we can. I firmly believe that removing the cost barrier for residents to dispose of mattresses and box springs properly will exponentially cut down on the mattresses that are dumped on the side of the road all around the City,” added Councilman James E. Taylor (Ward 8).
In addition to eliminating mattress collection fees in 2022, the contract includes a plan to create a “mattress fund,” which will be utilized by the City of Providence when a mattress cannot be collected by Waste Management and must be disposed of by the City. “This is another step in saving our resident’s money, and I would like to thank Chairman Igliozzi and my fellow Committee on Finance members for taking these steps for our residents,” continued Councilman James E. Taylor.
As approved by the City Council, the contract will continue until July of 2023, when the Finance committee will again reassess Waste Management procedures in the City of Providence.
Ensuring the Jobs of Over 700 Providence Hotel Employees
City Council Majority Leader Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5) introduced an Ordinance, which was passed by the Council for the first time, at tonight’s City Council Meeting ensuring that any hotel worker who was laid off or furloughed due to the COVID-19 pandemic would be rehired before other candidates, as City hotels come back online. The Ordinance is being co-sponsored by Council President Sabina Matos (Ward 15), Council President Pro Tempore Michael J. Correia (Ward 6), Majority Whip John J. Igliozzi, Esq. (Ward 7), Senior Deputy Majority Leader Nicholas J. Narducci Jr. (Ward 4), Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11), and Councilors David A. Salvatore (Ward 14), Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3), Kat Kerwin (Ward 12), Rachel Miller (Ward 13), James E. Taylor (Ward 8), Pedro J. Espinal (Ward 10), and John Goncalves (Ward 1).
“Over 700 Providence hotel employees are currently laid off due to the COVID-19 Pandemic,” stated Majority Leader Jo-Ann Ryan. “As the industry comes back online, it is important that we get our City’s hotel employees back to work. If you worked at a hotel in March and were laid off, then you should be called back when that hotel reopens. This important piece of legislation will ensure that our hardworking hospitality professionals get their jobs back and can reclaim their livelihoods.”
Leader Ryan continued, “Tourism is a vital component and revenue stream for the City of Providence. Currently, the City’s room occupancy tax revenue is down nearly $700,000 from last year. As travel begins to open up, the hospitality industry will return as a large economic generator for the City of Providence. The proposed legislation will ensure that these dedicated workers will have the option to return to their job by classification and seniority. It’s about fairness.”
City Council President Sabina Matos stated, “Providence hotel workers are the lifeblood of our tourism industry. They are the ones that welcome our visitors, take care of them during their stay, and are part of the very reason why so many people fall in love with our diverse and beautiful City of neighborhoods.”
Over the past several decades, the City of Providence has invested heavily in tourism, from its support of iconic cultural events like WaterFire and its Annual RI PRIDE celebration. Through tax stabilization agreements that gave investors the help, they needed to bring their hotels to Providence. This investment was also an investment in the City’s workforce. With 700 jobs on the line, this legislation will ensure that hotels located in Providence will not be able to permanently fire their employees and ask them to reapply as if they were just starting out with the company.
Majority Leader Ryan continued, “We have read about hotels across the country telling dismissed employees that they could reapply for their jobs. Yet, they start from the bottom-up. Many hotel employees go to work at these establishments for the opportunity to grow within the organization. This is simply not a good business practice. During a time when so many are out of work and are not making ends meet with unemployment, it is incumbent on us as elected leaders to do all we can to protect the interest and livelihood of our hospitality workers. It’s about fairness.”
The legislation also includes protections and enforcement for employees that are not brought back to work, including the right to bring legal action and penalties. The legislation does include a sunset clause and will remain in effect until November 1, 2022, unless it is repealed or the City Council approves an extension or re-authorization.
The Hospitality Worker Comeback legislation had its first passage tonight and will be referred to the Ordinance Committee for further review and discussion.
At tonight’s City Council meeting, Councilor David A. Salvatore (Ward 14) proposed a resolution requesting that the Department of Public Works create an online application process for overnight parking permits in the City of Providence. This resolution has been co-sponsored by Councilor Rachel Miller (Ward 13), Councilwoman Helen Anthony (Ward 2), Councilman Pedro Espinal (Ward 10), Councilman John Goncalves (Ward 1), and Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune (Ward 3).
“The Department of Public Works is tasked with providing efficient, cost-efficient and high-quality services to Providence residents. The current overnight parking application process is just not meeting that standard. An online process would be safer, more efficient, and will hopefully increase compliance with overnight parking regulations in our City,” stated Councilor David Salvatore.
Overnight parking permits allow residents to park on selected residential streets overnight. Currently, the Department of Public Works requires applications for these permits to be filed in person. Due to COVID-19, in-person interactions have become an inconvenience and risk for both residents and City personnel.
“Many residents in Ward 13 rely on overnight-parking permits to ensure that they can safely and legally park their car on residential streets. This is a necessary City service for constituents without ample parking at their residence, which is a reality for many city dwellers. However, the process for obtaining a permit has become burdensome within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. This resolution offers a safer, easier way to obtain a permit,” stated Councilor Rachel Miller.
COVID-19 has prompted many City services to transition to remote access, and many City resources are available online. While the overnight parking permit application is available to download online, the application must be submitted in person at the Traffic Engineering Building (700 Allens Avenue) or at the Municipal Court located at the Public Safety Complex (325 Washington Street).
“Current circumstances have forced us to re-evaluate our old ways of doing business. In many cases, this has helped municipalities find more efficient ways to serve their constituents. I believe that this initiative to move the overnight parking permit application process online will better serve the community and will make the process simpler for the Department of Public Works,” added Councilor David Salvatore.
Upon passage, copies of this resolution will be shared with Mayor Jorge Elorza and the Department of Public Works.
The City Council voted this evening to pass a change to the Code of Ordinances, giving authority to the Providence Redevelopment Agency (PRA) to borrow up to $20-Millon to capitalize the Providence Affordable Housing Trust Fund (Fund). The Council’s Committee on Ordinances, chaired by Majority Leader Jo-Ann Ryan (Ward 5), moved for full council approval of the amendment to the Code of Ordinances at their meeting on Tuesday, September 22, 2020.
“The City Council is making a historic and meaningful commitment to addressing the shortage of affordable housing,” stated Majority Leader Ryan. “The Fund was created by the City Council in 2019, in collaboration with its affordable housing partners, earmarking 10% of all TSA payments to provide the basis for the Fund. The $20 Million is anticipated to make up to 1,500 affordable homes possible in the next three years for Providence residents. The Fund is intended to provide critically needed gap financing to encourage the production, preservation, and protection of affordable housing. I want to thank Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris, my fellow committee members, our affordable housing partners, City finance teams, and Council colleagues past and present for their hard work on this important topic.”
“Affordable housing is a basic human right,” stated Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris (Ward 11). “I have been working on equity in housing for far too long, and this is the first major investment that I have seen made to address the issue in our City. I want to thank my Council colleagues for supporting this measure and their steadfast dedication to ensuring that we do all we can to address this pressing need. During the Fane Tower hearings, many residents spoke up and spoke loudly about the need for affordable housing, and I heard them. As we live through this pandemic, where so many are out of work, and where housing insecurity is coming into full focus, I am beyond proud that this body has acted and can take such a monumental step for our residents.”
The change to the Code of Ordinances approves the Providence Redevelopment Agency (PRA) to seek a bond of up to $20 Million to capitalize the Council’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The Fund, created in 2019, is an important City Council initiative that ensures that developers seeking tax relief are also investing in the City through their Tax Stabilization Agreements (TSAs). These agreements provide a structured tax phase-in for large scale development in the City and include specific clauses whereby the developer must invest into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, and meet a host of other obligations. Ten percent of the TSA’s total estimated value must be deposited into The Fund, which is managed by the PRA.
City Council President Sabina Matos stated, “TSAs are an integral part of growing our City and our tax base. Yet, it is imperative that developers also invest in the community. When we created the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, we did so to ensure that our investors were putting skin in the game and that we were creating a dedicated funding stream to create much needed affordable housing units in Providence. By moving forward with this ordinance to allow capitalization of The Fund, we will be able to do just that. I want to thank Deputy Majority Leader Mary Kay Harris for her tenacity in shepherding this important legislation through the Council.”
The additional bond funding could allow for nearly 1,500 affordable housing units to be added to the City’s housing stock. The PRA will mandate that all rental units created through this program be rented at 80 percent or less than the area median income (AMI) and no more than 120 percent of the AMI for multi-family homes. This funding is intended to be used as gap dollars to help fulfill the needs of developers and our housing partners, like local Community Development Corporations, to achieve their goal of creating affordable housing units throughout Providence.
Executive Director Jennifer Hawkins of One Neighborhood Builders stated, “Housing stability is the greatest economic challenge our residents face. Now more than ever, we need to ensure families and residents, despite their income, have access to safe, quality housing they can afford. Affordable housing promotes neighborhood stability and enables families and residents to thrive.”
“We are excited to see the City taking such an important step to support the production of much-needed affordable housing in Providence,” said Carol Ventura, Executive Director of RIHousing. “Many funding programs are over-subscribed, leaving developers searching for additional funds to close the gap and move projects forward. This new funding stream will be critical to creating and preserving affordable homes, spurring economic activity and creating jobs.”
This change to the Code of Ordinances will dramatically impact the community and our ability as a City to ensure that affordable housing can be developed and that residents can live and work in Providence without being house burdened.
At tomorrow’s City Council Meeting, Council President Sabina Matos (Ward 15) will propose a resolution requesting that Mayor Jorge Elorza and the Providence Board of Licenses create a payment plan option for restaurants and bars looking to renew their liquor licenses for 2021. The resolution is co-sponsored by President Pro Tempore Michael Correia (Ward 6), Senior Deputy Majority Leader Nicholas J. Narducci Jr. (Ward 4), and Councilors Helen Anthony (Ward 2), Rachel Miller (Ward 13), James Taylor (Ward 8), Pedro Espinal (Ward 10), and John Goncalves (Ward 1).
On the first of December each year, any restaurant or bar in the City of Providence with an existing liquor license must apply for a license renewal. This process can cost up to $3,000.00 and is overseen by the Board of Licenses. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to upset the economy, this large fee could significantly strain many struggling restaurants and bar owners.
“Providence is home to some of the best restaurants in the region. We have seen several restaurants that have had to close their businesses due to the ongoing pandemic. The trickle-down effect of those closures means residents have lost jobs, owners have lost their livelihoods, and in many cases, their dreams. Further, when a business closes, it creates losses in tax revenue for the City. We need to do what we can to support them. Our city is a destination because of our unique and diverse culinary and bar scene. As City leaders, we need to do whatever we can to ease the financial burdens that they are currently facing. I want to thank Brendan McCaughey, who brought this to our attention, and worked with Council Staff to better understand the needs of our license holders,” stated Council President Matos.
“The City of Providence must follow in the footsteps of our neighbors in Warwick and Pawtucket,” stated Council President Pro Tempore Michael Correia. “A liquor license is an integral part of any restaurant or bar operation. As business owners struggle to comply with new guidelines and grapple with financial loss, we must provide avenues for them to remain operational and on sound footing. A phased payment plan will surely help.”
In response to similar challenges, the Cities of Warwick and Pawtucket have already enacted similar plans, allowing license holders to adopt payment plans rather than paying all at once. While the cost will remain the same, this payment plan method aims to make the renewal fee easier to bear.
“It is critical that we take immediate action to support struggling restaurant and bar owners and do what we can to help them remain operational and fluid. This pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives, and our small business community – including restaurants and bars – have been hit hard. The livelihood of many depend on this relief,” stated Councilor Rachel Miller.
Brendan McCaughey, the owner of Nolan’s Pub, stated, “I would like to thank the City Council, in particular, Councilwomen Matos and Miller, for their swift attention to this matter. As the weather turns cold and outdoor seating becomes impractical, many bar and restaurant owners are concerned about how to financially survive the winter. I think I speak for all of my fellow license holders when I say that any payment relief from the City’s license renewal fees will be a tremendous help at a time when some of us desperately need it.”
Upon passage, copies of this resolution will be sent to Mayor Jorge Elorza and the Providence Board of Licenses.