scorecardresearch Skip to main content

In Providence, a push to house people instead of things

Three Providence City Council members that, instead of allowing more self-storage facilities, the city should change the zoning ordinance and develop more housing

A storage unit at Atlas Self Storage in Bridgewater, Mass.The Boston Globe/Boston Globe

It has been widely reported that Rhode Island is struggling through a serious housing crisis. In Providence, we’ve seen both the number of our homeless population and rental prices increase substantially over the last few years. This crisis is rooted in an extreme shortage of affordable housing and, fundamentally, developing more housing is an issue of land use.

The residents of Providence are being crushed by the weight of widespread unaffordability and we are determined, as community leaders, to figure out how to increase the supply of housing in our city.

This is why we would like to draw your attention to what we believe is an under-appreciated land use issue: self-storage facilities. Right now, two new and massive self-storage facilities have begun development in Providence. In Ward 3, developer Trunk Space LLC of Quincy, Mass., is converting the old headquarters for the Board of Election at 50 Branch Ave. into a five-story, 1,400-unit, self-store facility. In Ward 6, a single-story facility with an 11-acre footprint is going up beside the Stop & Shop Plaza on Manton Avenue.

The addition of these two facilities will bring the total of self-storage facilities to Providence to 17, making it roughly 50 facilities within a 10-mile drive. In 2020 alone, the number of self-storage units in our city increased by 11 percent, resulting in a total of 5.9 million square feet of storage space in Providence.


This is an unacceptable use of our city’s land at a time when we are so desperate to house people. Not only do self-storage facilities provide little opportunity for employment (on average only one or two low-paying jobs) they occupy large plots of valuable and limited real estate that could be better utilized for community services or residential opportunities. This is particularly problematic in a city where affordable housing is in high and urgent demand.


There are also real concerns about the predatory nature of these businesses. Self-storage is one of the few industries that surges in times of economic distress. They take advantage of those facing eviction and other forms of housing instability, not by offering temporary convenience, but by leveraging the desperation of a last resort with no other options.

This is why we, as members of the Providence City Council, are introducing an ordinance to prohibit the development of any more self-storage facilities in the city of Providence. We strongly believe that allowing the continued emergence of these facilities is not in the best interest of our residents or our economy.

Our work does not end there, though. It is important to understand how we got to this point and what we can do to change our course. This is where the Providence Comprehensive Plan (the Comp Plan) comes into play.

The Comp Plan is a massively important document that is re-written every 10 years. This is one of those years. It provides a framework to guide growth and development in the city over the next 20 years. Fundamental to the plan’s construction and success is community feedback. In May, the city of Providence will begin this once-in-a-decade process, and it is critical that community members understand and participate.

For residents of Providence, this is an incredible opportunity. The reason self-storage facilities have become so pervasive is that our current Comp Plan allows them access to land that it is presently illegal to develop housing on. As we rewrite the Comp Plan, we have an opportunity to change the zoning ordinance and empower our city to develop the housing we desperately need.


As always, your voice matters. As you walk through your neighborhood, imagine all that it can be. Imagine how we can better use empty buildings or empty lots. Imagine a future that benefits you and all your neighbors. A future where our city has housing for the homeless and where rents are not skyrocketing. That future is possible, and we can write it now. This is why we, members of the Providence City Council, are asking you to support our prohibition of self-storage facilities and to engage with us as we build a future that benefits us all.

Providence City Councilor Justin Roias represents Ward 4. Providence City Councilor Sue AnderBois represents Ward 3. Providence City Councilor Miguel Sanchez represents Ward 6.