The Providence City Council heard testimony from the public Wednesday evening about a proposal to prohibit more than three college students from renting a unit together in the city.
A slew of residents testified both in favor of and against the change — proponents emphasized the need to preserve the character and quiet of Providence neighborhoods, while opponents voiced concerns that the regulation would compound gentrification and rising rents by forcing students to occupy more units.
The City Council Chamber was packed during the Ordinance Committee meeting, with attendees ranging from residents and landlords to Brown alums eager to give input on the zoning change.
The amendment, put forth by Ward 2 Councilwoman Helen Anthony, would extend the existing rules around college student living — which ban more than three college students living together in single-family zones — to two-, three- and multi-family zones.
“We've already received a lot of input ideas and opinions both for and against this proposal,” Anthony said. “What is clear is that we need to do something different.”
Attendee Nina Markov ’82 said that she was “not anti-student” but that she supported the amendment to prevent large house parties in homes which are fully occupied by undergraduate students.
“These types of overly-dense student tenements are, more often than not, associated with a host of problems,” Markov said, noting that hundreds of students coming to a party results in “overflowing” trash and the “deterioration of historic structures.”
Susan Sklarek, a textile professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, also supported the modification to the zoning ordinance.
“There’s a party before they even start,” she said, explaining that get-togethers are more likely to get out of control with 10 or more students living in the same home.
Bob Azar, deputy planning director and visiting associate professor of urban studies, said that enforcement of the regulation for the over 20,000 buildings in two- and three-family zones in the city would rely on reports and complaints submitted to city hall.
Inspectors would “go to the site and they will make contact with the occupants of the building and/or the owner of the building and attempt to determine how many college students are living in the premises,” Azar said. This is currently how the regulation is enforced in single-family zones.
Many attendees present at the meeting also spoke out against the potential regulation.
“By putting a cap on the number of students that can share an apartment, you’re forcing those students to spread out, take up more units and have a bigger impact on our city,” said Gabe Long, a West End resident. “That’s going to drive up rents in a time when we’re already experiencing an absolutely brutal homelessness and housing insecurity crisis.”
John Garrahy, a lawyer representing Walter Bronhard — the landlord for many students on College Hill — also spoke in opposition to the proposed change. He said the ordinance may not actually “solve the issue of concern” with student partying.
Partying “usually occurs, as we have seen, with social media invitation,” Garrahy said, explaining that this amendment would not address the root issue. “We urge you to reject the proposed ordinance as unnecessary, adverse to the many property owners and detrimental to the housing needs of students.”
Tyler Blackburn ’25, a member of the men’s lacrosse team, also testified against the proposal, mentioning the financial burden of higher rents and safety concerns if the regulation is enacted. At a Ward 1 community meeting last month, residents mentioned frustration with members of the lacrosse team throwing a party in late September.
Alisha Imholt, director of property management and leasing for Providence Realty Advisors LLC, also spoke against the proposal.
“I'm here today to share my concerns that if this amendment passes, it will not only displace a significant number of students … but also put further strain on an already precarious rental market for non-students,” Imholt said.
Imholt added that she hopes to get the word out and mobilize students around this issue.
“I think it's safe to assume that college students are often the least engaged citizens when it comes to local city matters,” she said. “So in hopes of informing students from area colleges about this ordinance, I did create a public Change.Org petition that has now garnered over 725 signatures opposing this ordinance.”
Before going to a vote, council members opted to continue discussion of this amendment, with a meeting scheduled for 5 p.m. Nov. 16 at the City Council Chamber.
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.