It’s no secret that increasing development, rising housing costs, heightened official scrutiny in the post-Station era, and other factors have combined to put a serious squeeze on Providence artists and the old mill buildings they favor in recent years. Even amid this less hospitable environment, however, opportunities to buy property — and thereby avoid displacement — may be more plentiful than many artists surmise.
To help share information about the situation, Laura Mullen, the artists’ affordable housing liaison for the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts (RISCA), has organized a four-part workshop series, starting Thursday, October 5 at AS220, 115 Empire Street, Providence (each session is slated to run from 5 to 7 pm).
The series grew out of research showing that the learning curve around buying property is one of the trickiest challenges faced by artists. “What we’re really hoping is that with the right tools and the right knowledge base,” says Mullen, “many of these people who are starting to become stakeholders in the community will be able to take part in ownership opportunities.”
While no one wants to see artists as a gentrifying force, many artists do qualify for reduced-cost loans, closing assistance, a reduced-income program offered by Rhode Island Housing, and similar programs. “We want to make sure that artists understand what their options are,” says Mullen. “They may feel that home ownership is out of their reach and they may be wrong about that.”
The series begins with a session entitled, “Help, I Don’t Know Where My Money Goes! Understanding the Financial Aspects to Home Ownership,” featuring John Nimmo, assistant director of the Housing Network’s Homeownership Connection. On October 12, Mullen and architect Steve Durkee, a principal in Durkee Brown Viveiros & Werenfels will discuss “What Are My Choices? Residential vs. Commercial Real Estate.”
“I Want to Buy a House — What do I do? Taking the Leap to Owning a Home,” will be the focus on October 19, with guests Amy Wilson, a mortgage account executive at Randolph Savings Bank, and Bob Silva, homebuyer education manager for Rhode Island Housing. The series concludes on October 26, with “What I Really Need is a Commercial Loan: Buying Commercial Space for Artists,” with a yet-to-be-announced commercial representative from Randolph Savings Bank and an artist-workspace developer. The sponsors of the series are Randolph Savings Bank, AS220, and RISCA.
Rhode Island’s housing crisis remains a serious issue — and voters will have the opportunity to take a first step toward addressing it by backing Question 9 on the November ballot.
While more needs to be done to help sustain the presence of artists in Providence, Mullen was heartened when about 50 people, including city officials, artists, and developers, attended a September 21 presentation at AS220 by Tim Jones of Artscape Toronto, a nonprofit real estate developer. “Do I think the City of Providence is doing enough, and my answer is ‘Not yet,’ she says. “But do I think we’re on our way? I certainly do.”