PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Citing the “affordability crisis” in Providence, mayoral candidate Gonzalo Cuervo announced a new housing plan Monday that calls for a 4% cap on rent increases for most apartments in the city.
The rent stabilization plan would exempt newer units constructed in the past 15 years from the 4% cap on rent increases.
Cuervo announced support for the proposal at an event Monday morning alongside representatives of Reclaim Rhode Island, a progressive advocacy group that also endorsed Cuervo’s candidacy at the event.
The plan, crafted by Reclaim RI, lays out a series of other initiatives to tackle the housing crisis, including establishing a “public developer” that would “create sustainable, affordable mixed-income housing,” an eviction program that would require mediation between the tenant and landlord, and zoning changes to allow more density in neighborhoods that currently limit multifamily buildings.
“We all know that the cost of housing in Providence is out of control, and it’s threatening to fundamentally change the character of the 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 is entirely out of our control.”
Cuervo said rent stabilization, sometimes known as rent control, would require a city ordinance and might require enabling legislation by the General Assembly.
The strongest opposition is likely to come from developers and landlords, who argue ballooning costs, including increased property taxes, require charging more in rent.
Cuervo said the 15-year exemption for newer units in the plan is so that developers won’t be disincentivized to build.
“I own rental property myself,” Cuervo said, standing in front of a blighted property in Lower South Providence. “Rents have gone up at an obscene level compared to the increase in property taxes. Apartments in this neighborhood that were $900 18 months ago are $1,500 today. That does not respond to property tax increases.”
But Keith Fernandes of the Providence Apartment Association blasted the plan, arguing previous mayors for whom Cuervo worked “shifted the burden of taxes to small rental properties while supporting many luxury apartments with tax-free deals.”
“Economists across the political spectrum agree that rent control sounds good in theory but does not work,” Fernandes said.
The Providence Apartment Association held a fundraiser earlier this summer for rival candidate Brett Smiley, but Fernandes said the landlord group has not endorsed a candidate. City Councilwoman Nirva LaFortune is also running in the Sept. 13 primary for mayor.
“We have contributed to both Nirva and Brett,” Fernandes said. “People who understand basic math.”
No Republicans or independents filed for mayor, so the Democratic primary winner is all but certain to take over the job in January.
LaFortune has also said affordable housing is one of her top priorities, recently citing her own experience with homelessness in Florida when she was younger and pregnant.
Her “first 100 days” plan released last month does not mention a specific rent stabilization plan, but calls for increasing housing stock, reassessing zoning and other measures, “all with the goal of getting the cost of living in Providence under control and making it more accessible to live here.”
Asked for comment on Cuervo’s proposal Monday, LaFortune said she does support rent stabilization.
“I would be interested to know where the 4% number came from as the cap for year-over-year rent increases,” LaFortune said. “It seems to me that a flexible cap that is tethered to other market indicators would be a smarter approach.”
Smiley has also called for solving the affordable housing crisis, but opposes rent control. Campaign spokesperson Emily Crowell said Smiley supports an “aggressive increase in low and moderate-income housing throughout the city.”
“However, rent control 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,” Crowell said. “In Providence, many landlords are local, long-term residents.”
Steph Machado (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter covering Providence, politics and more for 12 News. Connect with her on Twitter and on Facebook.