PROVIDENCE — Gov. Gina Raimondo on Wednesday announced an $8-million grant for a pilot initiative to increase economic opportunities and health equity in two central Providence zip codes.

The grant will be funded by the philanthropic organization Blue Meridian Partners over the course of two years and will be managed by the Rhode Island Foundation.

The investment will be focused in two central Providence zip codes, 02908 and 02909, which have been some of the state’s hardest-hit areas during the coronavirus pandemic.

Through Wednesday, 02909 had the second-most cases of COVID-19 per capita since the start of the pandemic. Zip code 02908 ranked fourth.

“Before the pandemic, residents in these neighborhoods have a life expectancy of nine years less than residents in other neighborhoods in Providence and actually most communities in the state,” said Jennifer Hawkins, executive director of ONE Neighborhood Builders, a Providence-based affordable housing development organization that is working with the state and other partners to help implement the grant. “That is unconscionable. And changing that life expectancy gap is going to take many years, and it’s only going to happen through intense, place-based investment.”

Exactly how the grant will be spent has not yet been determined, Hawkins said. An advisory council made up of central Providence residents as well as working groups comprised of representatives from various community organizations and state agencies will be formed to help determine where the funding will go.

The money can be invested in categories such as pre-development expenses for affordable housing, increasing access to high-quality child care and supporting local business and entrepreneurship.

“Communities that have sufficient, affordable, safe housing; high-quality child care and education; resilient local businesses; these are the places that have the ingredients for economic mobility,” Hawkins said.

The two central Providence zip codes selected for the grant encompass nine neighborhoods and contain a third of the city’s population, Hawkins said. The neighborhoods are Hartford, Manton, Olneyville, Federal Hill, Smith Hill, Silver Lake, Elmhurst, Mount Pleasant and Valley.

Olneyville Square in Providence

Olneyville, which is in Providence’s 02909 zip code, has a median family income of $32,228 compared with $49,743 in the city as a whole, according to data from ONE Neighborhood Builders. About 33% of neighborhood residents live in poverty, compared with 26% of city residents, and about 14% of residents own homes compared with 35% citywide.

Hawkins said the goal is to use this grant to create sustainable change in a way that can be copied in other communities around Rhode Island.

“I think that I want to be sure that we are leveraging this tremendous investment to bring other private resources into these neighborhoods because place matters,” she said, “and when you invest in community organizations and community institutions, you help not just the current residents but future residents.”

Originally posted on December 2nd, 2020 by Madeleine List |The Providence Journal