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Editorial: Against the new housing ordinance

On Friday, Mayor Jorge Elorza signed into law a new ordinance that will prohibit more than three college students from occupying single-family homes in R-1 and R-1A zones in Providence. The ordinance will likely have little impact on the neighborhood issues it was designed to address and will only complicate the lives of students looking for off-campus housing in the future. While the passage of this legislation was seemingly aimed mostly at Providence College students, Brown students will also be affected, as these zones encompass some areas on College Hill, including parts of Angell Street, Thayer Street and Bowen Street. We acknowledge that this was a well-intentioned step towards addressing problems in much need of attention, but we doubt that it will actually resolve them.

When college students rent out single-family homes and live there in large numbers, the atmosphere of these neighborhoods can often be negatively affected. Councilwoman Jo-Ann Ryan, who introduced the college student amendment to the ordinance, said in a press release that the “change in intended use of single-family homes is undermining the character of our neighborhoods, diminishing the quality of life and creating health and public safety concerns.” Families living in residential neighborhoods understandably do not want to feel like they are living in the middle of a college dorm.

But this ordinance was not the most effective way to address these concerns. Many of the problems this ordinance aims to address will remain unresolved, but many aspects of off-campus student housing will be complicated. Providence already has legislation in place that limits the number of unrelated people who can live together that is not well enforced; specifying students is supposed to make it easier. But we doubt it will, especially considering patterns that occur in areas that have passed similar legislation. Medford and Somerville in Massachusetts, for instance, are two areas in which seniors at Tufts University frequently lease off-campus housing. While Medford and Somerville have ordinances that limit unrelated residents to three and four people, respectively, landlords frequently sign leases to only the legal number of students but allow more to live there unofficially. Similar situations could easily arise in the areas affected by the new city legislation.

Of course, what differentiates the new Providence legislation is the specification that three college students, as opposed to just unrelated individuals, cannot live together. But if students circumvent the new regulation, then the official specification will not affect the conditions it seeks to affect, and the expansiveness of the order might lead to other problems. As Councilman Seth Yurdin pointed out in a meeting to discuss the ordinance, its definition of “student” would prohibit two married students enrolled in graduate school or taking classes at a community college from renting together.

Certainly no families in Providence should have to deal with loud, disrespectful college students partying until 2 a.m., but this ordinance will not do much to change that. The main effect will be that college seniors might take advantage of more loopholes, as they do in other areas, and older adults who are technically classified as students will have fewer options to find housing.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Manuel Contreras ’16 and Meghan Holloway ’16, and its members, Emma Axelrod ’18, Noah Fitzgerel ’17 and Aranshi Kumar ’17. Send comments to


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