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BPR Interviews: Peter Asen

Peter Asen has been the Director of Strategy and Development for Providence’s Housing Authority since January of 2018. Mr. Asen received his B.A. from Brown University in Africana Studies & Ethics/Political Philosophy in 2004 and then went on to receive his M.S. in Labor Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 2009. Mr. Asen has also worked for the City of Providence in various leadership positions and as a Senior Policy Analyst on the Rhode Island House of Representatives.

What are the primary goals of the Housing Authority for Providence and the greater state of Rhode Island? What obstacles does the H.A. have to overcome to reach sustainability?

The mission of the Housing Authority is to provide decent, affordable housing that will be here for the long term and to address the social and economic needs of our residents. The federal government is not adequately expanding available housing or funding to support the number of people demonstrating need. We are going to have to be able to do more with less and find alternative avenues for funding.


How is gentrification changing the methods that the H.A. is using to promote sustainability?

Gentrification is a challenge because we receive a limited amount of funding. With gentrification, prices of houses are increasing so it becomes more difficult for people to find an apartment where the voucher will be accepted. The amount of funding we receive will only go so far, meaning we have to subsidize fewer people’s apartments. Something else to consider is the construction of new affordable housing units. We are currently doing a program for project based vouchers, which allows a company to build affordable housing and permanently subsidize apartments. However, since there is an increase in development of luxury and higher cost housing, there is less development of affordable housing, meaning that there is less housing for the people who really need it. Right now there are 6,000 households on our waiting list for public housing. We only have 2,600 units of housing. There are people that could be waiting for years. Essentially, we have an increasing demand for housing but we don’t have the increasing resources to keep up with it.


Where is gentrification hitting Providence the most and what the reason for it?

The west end of the city is one of the areas being hit most by gentrification because of development and a lot of people moving in. Some parts of Elmwood and certainly Mount Hope in the east side are experiencing gentrification. The rest of the east side has already been pretty expensive and Mount Hope was one of the last lower income areas left. In regards to the cause of gentrification, there are longtime home owners that can’t keep up with their mortgages anymore and lose their homes. There are homes that are being sold for prices that are extraordinarily high compared to what the property value had been in the past, contributing to the displacement of people.