For those who’ve spent their lives in them, Providence’s triple-deckers, Victorians and other multifamily houses might not seem too remarkable, or even desirable.
But in the wake of the foreclosure crisis, the turn-of-the-20th-century apartment buildings that make up so many city neighborhoods have transitioned from real estate afterthoughts to preservation cause.
Joining monuments to industry like the Narragansett Electric Lighting Building and tributes to worship like the Cathedral of St. John, the city’s hundreds of foreclosed apartment buildings were placed as a group this spring on the Providence Preservation Society’s Ten Most Endangered Properties List.
“A lot of them are great houses, but ordinary houses: these are not places that are going to get plaques,” said Preservation Society Executive Director James Hall about the decision to place an entire segment of the housing market on the endangered list. “We had such good turn-of-the-century housing stock and it has worked for so long. It is really the fabric of neighborhoods.”
By identifying foreclosed, multifamily houses as endangered, the Preservation Society singled out a maligned force within the economy more than a particular building or architectural style that needs to be preserved.
Between 2009 and 2011, 964 two- and three-unit buildings went through foreclosure, according to a Housing Works Rhode Island analysis of figures from The Warren Group. Those foreclosures affected 2,414 apartments, Housing Works estimates.
Of all of the residential foreclosures in the city during that three-year period, 58 percent were two- or three-family homes and 92 percent of all multifamily foreclosures were two- and three-family homes, Housing Works said.
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