Metro, News

Fox Point Neighborhood Assoc. President Cicchitelli enters Ward 1 Race

Cicchitelli focuses on affordable housing, managing large-scale developments

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Nick Cicchitelli thought his opportunity for public service had come in 2010, when he worked on the gubernatorial campaign of then Rhode Island General Treasurer Frank Caprio. Caprio lost.

In 2014, he again worked on a Democrat’s campaign — this time, for R.I. Secretary of State Ralph Mollis . Then Mollis lost, too.

Now, Cicchitelli will vie for a seat on the Providence City Council — and a chance at public service — in the April 7 special election for Ward 1. His top issues are access to affordable housing, managing high-end development and fair taxation for his constituents.

Ward 1 includes College Hill and parts of Fox Point, the Jewelry District and Downtown Providence. The ward’s long-time representative Seth Yurdin vacated the council seat in January.

Cicchitelli faces John Goncalves ’13 MAT ’15, a school teacher, and Anthony Santurri, a small business owner, in the primary. Because no Republicans have entered the race, the winner of the March 3 Democratic primary will be the only name on the ballot in April.

A real estate agent and president of the Fox Point Neighborhood Association, Cicchitelli moved to the neighborhood nine years ago, but he has lived in Rhode Island his whole life.

With his background in real estate and two Masters degrees, one in political science and one in public administration, Cicchitelli takes a special interest in housing and real estate development around the city. Specifically, he says that a lack of affordable housing remains a prevalent issue in Providence and is worsened by ongoing gentrification.

Cicchitelli said that policy responses to an affordable housing shortage in Providence have “kind of been haphazard” and proposes expanding the Providence Redevelopment Agency — or PRA — a city project started in 1947 that aims to eliminate “blighted and substandard areas,” according to its website. Cicchitelli points to recently approved projects that will erect two new buildings in vacant lots and renovate an existing apartment complex on Pine Street as examples of efforts to expand affordable housing. Stop Wasting Abandoned Property, a local redevelopment organization, bought the properties from the PRA and will move ahead with both projects with the help of state and city tax-credits.

Such efforts can be applied to the nearly 300 derelict properties city-wide to provide affordable housing, Cicchitelli said, explaining that it would solve “a sizable chunk of the issue.”

While new housing is being created, most residential development in the city has been concentrated in higher-income areas like Fox Point. “We have the building costs of Boston, but the rents of Maine,” Cicchitelli said. “A lot of times the only way developers can make it work economically to develop here as opposed to elsewhere is to go after the high-end.”

Prompting developers to build affordable housing in lower income areas requires incentivization, according to Cicchitelli. Often, this comes in the form of tax stabilization agreements, which lower property taxes for developers over an extended period. “If you want a developer to put up private money, you have to make it worth their while,” he said.

Cicchitelli opposes high-end developments like the proposed Hope Point Tower, a would-be 46-story luxury high-rise. Developments like the tower would be “stores of wealth … for people who don’t even live here,” he said.

Sharon Steele, president of the Jewelry District Association, said that this election is “a tipping point” because of the potential delayed or negative impact of increased development on the East Side.

“We are going to bear all of the pain, and it’s going to be years before we begin to see the fruits of that,” she said.

With the diverse interests in different neighborhoods in Ward 1, development must be about “what makes the most sense for what is needed,” Richard Pezzillo, president of the Downtown Neighborhood Association, told The Herald.

“You’re not going to build a 20-story tower on Wickenden Street,” Pezzillo said.

Cicchitelli supports versatile “workforce housing” in Ward 1 and developments like a project on the I-195 Redevelopment District Commission’s Parcel 7, which will include mixed income housing, retail and incorporated parking. The parcel may also host a Trader Joe’s food market in the future, The Herald previously reported.

In addition to shielding Ward 1 from unhelpful or overgrown development, Cicchitelli hopes to protect East Side communities from what he believes to be unfair taxation.

He strongly opposes the Council’s proposed progressive income tax from June of last year, which he described as “not even a thinly veiled attempt to extract more money from the East Side.” Goncalves also opposed the Council’s proposed income tax, The Herald previously reported.

Cicchitelli said the plan does not take into account ability to pay or many East Siders’ retired or fixed-income status.

Alternatively, Cicchitelli proposes that institutions like the University play a larger role in the tax system. He says the University is “one of the biggest players in town.”

“It’s brutal when you have a very wealthy university a few blocks away from a crumbling school,” Cicchitelli said.

With regard to Providence Public Schools, Cicchitelli is happy with the state takeover. He says the condition of public schools is a “calamity’’ — and that it’s nothing new. Cicchitelli referenced a 1993 study on the school district that yielded results similar to the more recently released report from Johns Hopkins University.

Cicchitelli said good schools are important for attracting new families to the city — which would allow for a larger tax base and move the city towards “a place of fiscal stability.”

Pointing to an “untenable” pension system as the cause of significant pressure on the city budget in recent years, Cicchitelli said the city must reach a place of stability before it can address its deeper problems.

“It’s not just a housing problem. It’s not just a taxation problem. It’s not just an education problem,” he said.

But, “these things are all interrelated, which is the problem,” Cicchitelli said. “You’ve got to look at it from 10,000 feet.”

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