Spotlight: Housing Justice

This month we spotlight efforts around housing justice.
March 13, 2023

Housing is an issue of significant concern to Rhode Island communities, with impacts on economic opportunity, education and health. Dianne (Dannie) Catherine Ritchie, MD, MPH, a family physician, is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Family Medicine and Affiliated Assistant Professor of Africana Studies at Brown, engaging with students and local communities to advance health and wellness. She founded Community Health Innovations of RI and has created a Community Health Worker program to enhance career pathways, a more diverse health workforce and more equitable outcomes. Recognizing housing as a social determinant of health, Dr. Ritchie teaches AFRI 1075: Providence Housing Ecosystem, Development, Displacement and Gentrification, and her students’ research and advocacy has been cited in A Matter of Truth: The Struggle for African Heritage & Indigenous People Equal Rights in Providence, Rhode Island (1620-2020)


Dr. Ritchie recently joined Rochelle Lee, Commissioner of the Providence Public Housing, as a keynote speaker for the Swearer Center’s "Civic Engagement Series Kick-Off Event: Pathways to Housing Justice." Ritchie and Lee distinguished between displacement and gentrification and discussed the interplay of housing development, public policy, highway construction and other factors affecting communities and affordable housing. Urban renewal on the East Side resulted in essentially two cities within Providence. Fox Point and Mt Hope had the largest Black neighborhood in the 1950s with the 57 acre clearance being about 85% Black, but changed due in part to an active movement to exclude or remove Black homeowners and business owners. More information can be found on the website Black Family Displacement on the East Side of Providence Housing Forum: 2020, which was compiled and presented by the students in the housing course to community members. Furthermore, nonprofit Community Development Corporations (CDCs) represent one strategy for addressing ongoing inequities, and Providence and Warwick have a total of 68 CDCs. Several current bills (S 0365, H 5225, S 0315) have been proposed to address housing needs and access. We must “bring the history out of the archives,” Dr. Ritchie says, to understand housing injustices and identify solutions. 



Mary Jo Callan, Vice President for Community Engagement and Stark Family Executive Director of the Swearer Center, agrees. She began her career working with youth and families experiencing homelessness and believes that elevating the voices of those experiencing housing insecurity is also critical. As a research institution, Callan says, “both faculty and student researchers have an opportunity and obligation to contribute by seeking to understand the market pressures and dimensions of the affordability challenges locally, informed by community partners and residents. With this understanding, researchers can identify what works for communities seeking to add housing for residents at all income levels, including what might work in Rhode Island.” In addition to leaning into our teaching and research mission to contribute to workable solutions, “it’s important for all of us at Brown–students, staff and faculty--to learn more about the ways in which we are a part of the pressure on the local housing market so we can be informed housing consumers and affordability advocates” she adds. A diversity of safe, stable and affordable housing is a matter of shared self-interest for residents and institutions, regardless of sector. Prior to her work in higher education, Callan worked to support the creation of affordable housing and other community development efforts. She is a member of the HUD + Higher Ed Engagement Network Think Tank, which seeks to catalyze and support higher education’s role in contributing to healthy, thriving communities across the country. 


We invite faculty, staff, students, and community members to participate in upcoming events in the Civic Engagement Series: Housing Justice Advocacy from the Lens of a Student Group (April 12); Health and Housing (April 20); Lessons from the Youth-Led Movement to Eradicate Homelessness in Rhode Island (April 25); and Housing as a Foundation Walking Tours (Olneyville April 26, Southside Providence April 27). For a few additional resources for learning and action around housing, please visit our website. A recent report from the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area also highlights ways higher education institutions can directly contribute to the production of affordable housing.