Greater City Providence

WPRI: The Providence economy may need some more apartments

Providence has low residential vacancy, and high unemployment. People want to live here, but developers have a very difficult time building financially feasible projects.

If people want to live in Providence, that’s a good sign for the Rhode Island economy. More residents means more customers, which means more businesses, which means more jobs, which means even more residents – a virtuous circle that drives economic growth. But they’re not going to come here without a place to live.

Greater City Providence

Promoting the smart urban growth of the Greater Providence region.


  • There’s too many zoning regulations in providence. Maybe if the zoning was less strict, they’re would be more residential buildings and highrises in providence, preferably mixed-use buildings.

  • How about a petition? We can start it here and then all snowball it into Facebook and then hand it to whoever it should be handed to

  • Zoning is only part of of the reason why development is difficult in Providence. Construction costs are a hugh factor being only slightly lower than Boston and New York, where rents are much lower, though rents have improved downtown. Since downtown is a pedestrian neighborhood that has excellent mass transit (bus and train) if parking was optional, construction costs could be reduced. Except perhaps requiring the ground floor to be built to the lot line, outside of historic districts imposing building setbacks significantly increases costs requiring additional structure and often creating awkward or irregular floor plates, which for residential effects unit layouts that can make apartments and an overall building inefficient.

  • If you think zoning is bad in providence, you haven’t seen it elsewhere.
    The problem with current housing stock is that it’s poorly maintained, expensive and unattractive to many. If people cleaned up their property and had competitive rents, we wouldn’t have this problem.

  • Whatever the problem really is,
    Why isn’t someone fixing it? It essentially is holding downcity back from increasing density.

  • Isn’t the biggest problem facing more apartments in PVD the lack of jobs? I mean, if we encourage people to live closer to work, then why would we be wooing people who work in Boston, to live in Providence (rhetorical question) but the truth is its not that different from lamenting the fact that people who work in Providence live in Exeter. When there are more jobs available in Providence, more people will live there. So it may seem like a chicken/egg thing but it really is “Build the jobs and the apartments will come” not the other way around.

  • I can’t say I buy the whole “jobs first” argument. When suburban sprawl first began to take off after world war II, nearly all of those people were still working in the cities, the jobs followed them to these areas (although the government incentivized much of this trend) and business and industrial parks came to be. Demand for downtown living is fueled by increased downtown living, as odd as it sounds. It’s a trend, and like all trends, there are the initiators, then there are stages of waves where more and more people feel comfortable following the first few. Downtown is a desirable place to live because of the actions of people 20 – 30 years ago that set a chain of events off that led to it currently being a hip, safe, and wonderful place to live that has most necessary amenities.
    The biggest obstacles to increased development of apartments in the city (as a whole, despite the fact that the topic has come to focus in on downtown) have already been mentioned. Parking minimums, high property taxes, high construction costs, et cetera, these are the obstacles that come up the most, and are all spot on. While I don’t know how much we can reasonably change construction costs, and I think it will be a while before we can have the political climate to address the reliance on high property taxes, parking minimums are an easy place to start. It makes it easier to get something up off the ground, and allows the market to accurately determine the actual need for parking. The demand would lead to surface lots not being able to suffice as a source of parking, creating the incentive to build garages on some of them. WIn-win.

  • It’s misleading to focus on the unemployment rate or to assume that most who have or who will be relocating to Downcity exclusively come from Boston. Rhode Island’s unemployment rate was 8.9% in June. Within the academic, medical, bio-tech and tech industries there has been for quite some time virtually full employment as there is now. Where jobs are most lacking are within the traditional blue collar sector, construction, and low wage service jobs.

    Indeed some Downcity residents work in or are coming from Boston, while others are college students or generally people who are under 35. An often over looked segment are people over 55, some of whom have arrived Downcity from other parts of Providence or the suburbs, which along with the under 35 group is more typical to the demographic trend for most downtowns nationwide.

    An example of low vacancy that is not exactly Downcity but is close (actually in the West End) is the Pearl Street Lofts. The buildings are a mix of rentals and condos. Several years ago all but one condo was sold and today the rentals have a very low vacancy-rate. Many of the residents are doctors or other medical professional that work in the South Providence hospitals.

  • Well perhaps my observations were more anecdotal. I cannot move back to Providence without a job. So, for me, it doesn’t matter how many apartments there are, none of them will have me in them unless there is a job with my name on it. And i cannot believe I am the only one. And has the population of Providence increased? Or are these lofts being bought by people who already live in the city and simply want to move? I’ve been gone long enough to not really know whether Providence is gaining, or losing population.

  • If I were to base it my opinion entirely on the conversations I have with folks (word on the street, I guess), I think that most of the demand is coming from a combination of people already within the city limits, or metropolitan types that are relocating to the area in general and choose downtown Providence over Boston or suburbs. I definitely believe the Boston-transplant numbers are a little lower than most would estimate. During the three years that I lived downtown, I met neighbors from Chicago, L.A., North Carolina, Connecticut, or from elsewhere in R.I., but I can’t recall a single one from Boston. Not to say that there aren’t former Bostonians in downtown Providence, but it seems like a significantly lower ratio than the demo-targeting seems to justify.
    There definitely seems to be a good market for metropolitan retirees from other areas with decent expendible income levels. Also, millenials of all income levels seem really attracted to the cultural offerings of downtown. This is part of the reason why I think the jobs could follow the residwntial growth. I’ve known quite a few folks that worked outside the city that either lived downtown or desired to do so, if the opportunity arose.
    None of what I just said is scientific in any way, but I believe that it explains the disconnect between employment numbers and vacancy rates, and I think it represents a trend that bodes well for the city in the coming years. I honestly believe that it may be a decade or more before housing stock in downtown Providence catches up with the pent up demand.

  • It might take a lot longer to satisfy the demand for housing stock.

    Last year at Grow Smart RI’s Power of Place Summit, Christopher Leinberger who is a real estate developer, land use strategist, professor, researcher and author, was the keynote speaker. He suggested that for most American cities, including Providence, it would take at least 20 to 30 years to fulfill the pent-up housing demand.

    I interpret that to mean that we’re at the very beginning of the repopulation of cities (and especially downtowns) or rather the reverse migration from the suburbs to the cities. Cities now appear to be at a similar point to where the suburbs were in the late ’40s or early ’50s.

  • Peter, I entirely agree with that assessment. I’m not a professional, so I try to be a little conservative with my public speculations, but I personally think we’ve hit a point where we’ll likely see consistent growth in urban populations for the rest of our lives. Providence, already being densely populated, will likely see the sort of vertical growth that gets all of us urbanists excited. Regardless of what use may come for the Industrial Trust tower, I would gladly speculate publicly that we’ll see an apartment highrise downtown in around the same amount of time it’ll take to see the streetrail come to fruition, if not before. My only real concern is whether or not it’ll be a pretty one.

  • @ David Rocha — i agree with the high-rise — perfect spot next to the Arcade in the \”parking lot of lost dreams with a historic facade.”

  • Rick, I would sincerely hope so, but I’ll settle for somewhere between Washingtton and Weybosset streets.

  • This may sound a bit off topic but there should be more mixed use buildings in areas outside of downtown like Elmhurst, mount pleasant, basically any neighborhood in providence that is lacking mixed use buildings.

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