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Brett Smiley talks zoning, off-campus students at Ward 1 meeting

Mayor-elect expresses support for limiting how many students can live in single family homes

<p>Several large parties thrown on Saturday Sept. 24 prompted residents to ask for possible ways to limit the number of students in single-family homes. </p>

Several large parties thrown on Saturday Sept. 24 prompted residents to ask for possible ways to limit the number of students in single-family homes.

Brett Smiley, the next mayor of Providence, spoke with about 60 residents of Ward 1 in a community Zoom call Wednesday evening. 

He answered questions ranging from flooding infrastructure in Providence to rent control. Smiley also said he was looking forward to working with his former opponents Nirva LaFortune MA’19, Ward 3 Providence city councilwoman, and Gonzalo Cuervo, former deputy secretary of state and former chief of staff to R.I. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea.

Since there are no Republican or Independent candidates running for mayor, Smiley has already won the race and won’t be on the ballot come election day.

Smiley — a resident of Ward 1 himself — discussed his support of a zoning provision which would restrict the number of students that could live together in a single-family home to three.


Several residents of Arnold Street were on the call to voice their concerns about increasing numbers of students moving on to their block, with one resident explaining how “single-family houses (are) being bought by developers and then stuffed with up to eight students.”

On Saturday, Sept. 24, there were several large, loud parties on the street, residents said, prompting some to ask if there was any zoning regulation that could prevent a large number of students from living together. 

“Just like students in Brown residence halls, students who receive permission to live off-campus are required to abide by Brown’s Code of Student Conduct,” wrote University Spokesperson Brian Clark in an email to The Herald.

“I live on Hope Street, and the expansion of students into single-family homes is seriously degrading the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” Smiley said.

Smiley added that he supports addressing this issue through zoning, which would prevent more than three unrelated people from living in one single-family home. 

“I do support the expansion of the policies for unrelated parties,” Smiley said. “I look forward to working with the council on that as a preventative measure” around off-campus student behavior.

One attendee wrote in the Zoom chat that “banning unrelated people from living together is deeply concerning to me. The only way I’ve been able to afford living in Providence has been by living with others, under one roof, in community.”

“If students acting up is a concern, please address that directly. Banning any unrelated people who want to live together from doing so impacts basic freedom and will exacerbate the housing crisis,” the attendee continued.

In June, Helen Anthony, Ward 2 Providence city councilwoman, introduced a zoning amendment that would specifically place the regulation on college students — rather than any unrelated people living together — in more residential zones throughout the city. 

At present, the Providence Zoning Ordinance states that a household, or those who are eligible to live in a single-family home, can be either a family or “a person or group of not more than three unrelated persons living together.” 


In 2021, the Rhode Island Supreme Court affirmed that regulation specifically targeted towards students was legal.

“Currently, no more than three college students are permitted to occupy a single-family house in the … single-family zones,” according to the proposal. “The amendment would expand this restriction” to areas zoned as two-family, three-family and multi-family zones.”

“As these institutions continue to grow, they need to house people, and I know this is impacting our neighborhood,” Smiley said. “I would much rather see them on campus with campus supervision than continuing to spill into homes and, in some cases, degrading the quality of historic homes in historic neighborhoods.”

“We have no objection to enforcement of a city ordinance that’s already law,” Clark wrote.

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“We're doing the due diligence on this particular ordinance and thinking about what zones it's going to extend to,” said John Goncalves ’13 MA’15, Ward 1 Providence city councilman. He added that the Providence City Council would address the amendment in the coming months.

Katy Pickens

Katy Pickens is the managing editor of newsroom and vice president of The Brown Daily Herald's 133rd Editorial Board. She previously served as a Metro section editor covering College Hill, Fox Point and the Jewelry District, housing & campus footprint and activism, all while maintaining a passion for knitting tiny hats.

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