Providence reparations group approves final recommendations

THE PROVIDENCE MUNICIPAL Reparations Commission on Monday approved a final report outlining a plan for racial reparations. Pictured is Mayor Jorge O. Elorza (center) announcing the executive order to create the commission. / COURTESY CITY OF PROVIDENCE

PROVIDENCE – Not only African and indigenous residents, but those who live in certain neighborhoods or make below a certain amount of money, regardless of race, stand to benefit from a sweeping set of programs and policies recommended by the Providence Municipal Reparations Commission.

The 13-member group on Monday approved a final report with an 11-point plan for how the city can identify and work to rectify the centuries of institutional and systemic discrimination. The 57-page report outlines a grand vision for how to not only make up for past harm, but create a future of equality for city residents of all races and income levels through access to housing, education, fair treatment under the law and business support.

Exactly how or when this action plan will unfold remains unclear; the city has allocated $10 million of its American Rescue Plan Act funds for reparations work, though Chairman Rodney Davis previously told PBN that significantly more funding – and action by other public and government groups – will be needed.

Davis on Monday praised the report as a “historical moment,” again acknowledging that it is not just up to Providence but the “38 other communities [in the state] to read this and respond with how they are making change in their own community.”

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The recommendations will be submitted to the mayor and city council, who will develop and approve a more specific spending plan for the $10 million carveout of ARPA funds for the reparations program “very soon”, according to Theresa Agonia, a spokesperson for Mayor Jorge O. Elorza. 

The report comes two years after Elorza unveiled his plan for a three-part city reparations commission. Speaking to the commission on Monday, Elorza recalled how his vision was initially met with skepticism.

“The immediate feedback we received was all the reasons why not to do it,” Elroza said. “Having worked through this process, we have 30 pages now of why to do this. We have come such a long way.”

In accordance with the federal guidelines for ARPA funds, the report identifies groups eligible to benefit from its recommended programs to include Indigenous and African heritage people as well as those in certain neighborhoods – known as qualified census tracts – that were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic. Low-income residents are also eligible, with preference to those who earn less than 30% of the area median income, which would be $20,300 for one person or $29,000 for a family of four under 2022 federal guidelines.

Traditionally, reparations are associated with direct financial payments to marginalized groups, but the report does not mention anything about these kinds of payments. Instead, it calls for policies and programs that can build wealth through homeownership, financial literacy, workforce and business training. Also on the business front, the report suggests creating a commercial land bank program to buy properties for use by African and Indigenous business owners and groups, and establishing neighborhood incubators with business and education services. 

There are also changes aimed at improving the racial bias in the criminal justice system, in education and cultural institutions as well as representation in city government.

The full report is available on the city website.

Nancy Lavin is a PBN staff writer. You may reach her at Lavin@PBN.com.

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