October 6 Ward Letter

I hope you are enjoying Columbus Day weekend. This week’s letter discusses regulation of student housing, regulation of short-term rentals, tax stabilization agreements and the school bus driver strike.

On Tuesday, October 9 at 3:30 p.m. at 444 Westminster Street, a committee of the City Plan Commission hold a public meeting will review possible legislation to regulate student housing. Robert Azar from the Planning Department of Planning will share with us the Department’s ideas for both student housing and short-term rentals, such as AirBnB. Our neighborhood meeting, co-sponsored by Councilwoman LaFortune and Helen Anthony, the Democratic candidate to succeed me in Ward 2, will take place on Wednesday, October 10 at 6:00 p.m. at the Nathan Bishop Middle School Cafeteria. Please try to come and share your ideas.

At Thursday night’s meeting, the City Council gave second and final passage to a tax stabilization agreement (TSA) for the College Hill Edge development on Steeple Street. Some of you shared with me your opposition to this project, primarily for two reasons. The first was that it would be bad for the neighborhood. I attended the City Plan Commission and spoke in opposition to the additional height they acquired, which I believe aggravated some negative impacts. Others noted that the project would not provide relief for those in need of affordable housing, which is also true. With that said, I voted in favor of the ordinance because it was a project in excess of $50 million, and it met the standard criteria (apprentice training, local hiring efforts, etc.) to qualify for a TSA based on prior history. Because of our City’s high commercial property tax rate, the TSA is generally the only way to encourage new development. I would like to see the City enact a standard TSA similar to other cities such as Philadelphia to avoid the delay and ordeal involved with the current one-off proceedings. It may be possible to include some contribution ot affordable housing as part of such a standard document, consistent with the overall goal of building the City’s tax base.

This past Monday (October 1), the School Department Oversight Committee met to, among other things, review the School Department’s efforts to mitigate the impacts of the school bus driver strike. We learned that the City has essentially no leverage to resolve the situation, which was described as a national dispute. The national Teamsters union wants to require First Student to contribute to their national multi-employer pension fund, and First Student’s opposes because of the lack of adequate funding for the multi-employer fund, and the risk of First Student’s becoming liable for the entire fund’s shortfalls. While we cannot adjudicate the merits of their positions, the bottom line is that Providence students are being hurt by this national dispute, and the current contract, which was shaped by First Student’s leverage as the only viable bidder, makes their problem our problem. The Superintendent noted the heroic efforts of parents, students and educators to cope with this crisis, but it is creating a strain and many children are falling through the cracks. At the end of the day, it is clear we need to restructure the City’s school bus program to make it more resilient and less vulnerable to any vendor’s problems.


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