ONB brings healthcare to the community at William D’Abate Elementary School, one of their many vaccination sites during COVID.
By Jennifer Pereira
Vice President of Grants & Community Investments
Rhode Island Foundation
They build and renovate affordable housing, but ONE Neighborhood Builders does much more than that. They build communities. In their mission to address pervasive social and economic inequities, they have been doing innovative work to cultivate healthy, vibrant, and safe communities through a wide range of programs and collaborations that extend far beyond construction.
ONE Neighborhood Builders (ONB) has established itself as a community development leader in Rhode Island, focusing on place-based efforts to improve economic mobility for residents in the nine Providence neighborhoods located in the 02908 and 02909 ZIP codes: Elmhurst, Federal Hill, Hartford, Manton, Mount Pleasant, Olneyville, Silver Lake, Smith Hill, and Valley.
The neighborhoods they serve have similar demographics and face enormous health disparities: 41% of individuals in these areas live in poverty. The homeownership rate is 25%, far lower than the 61% regional average. A bleak indicator of just how poor conditions of existing housing are: 22% of kindergarten children in the Olneyville, Valley, and Federal Hill neighborhoods of Providence were identified with elevated blood-lead levels. These inequities impact overall quality and duration of life–in fact, the average life expectancy in Central Providence is nine years lower than that of other Providence neighborhoods.
Founded in 1988 as Olneyville Housing Corporation (OHC), ONE Neighborhood Builders became the name of the organization when OHC merged with Community Works Rhode Island in 2015. Over the past two decades, the Foundation has invested more than $1.5 million in the various iterations of One Neighborhood Builders.
In response, ONB has developed over 500 affordable homes for families, transforming neighborhoods characterized by blight and crime into safe communities with high-quality housing and vibrant retail shops. One of the early recipients of the Foundation’s Impact Investing Initiative, ONB received an $806,000 loan in 2018 to support the Protecting Providence Property program, a pilot effort to provide affordable homes to middle income households. In June 2021, ONB celebrated the completion of King Street Commons and Sheridan Small Homes, representing a nearly $20-million investment. The 2.5-acre King Street Commons development includes 30 new affordable rental apartments and a child care center in Olneyville.
Clustered on three-quarters of an acre and adjacent to the Fred Lippitt bike path, five Sheridan Small Homes were built with first-time homebuyers in mind.
“Whenever we launch a new housing development, we focus on the fact that we’re not simply developing housing; we’re building community,” says ONB Executive Director Jennifer Hawkins. “We investigate the needs of each neighborhood where we build.” ONB calls upon neighborhood residents and stakeholders inquiring about their strategies and priorities to note efforts to revitalize neighborhoods without displacing existing residents and businesses.
They know that 80% of what makes people healthy happens outside of healthcare settings—and that safe and stable housing and living wages are the primary determinants. A multi-year grant from the Rhode Island Foundation’s Fund for a Healthy Rhode Island enabled ONB to develop their Community Health Worker Registered Apprenticeship program. Community Health Workers—there are currently 14 participants—help residents with a variety of supportive services and assistance, including rent relief, food assistance, and healthcare. During the COVID pandemic, they provided vaccine site support—64 vaccine sites hosted, with 1,385 people vaccinated, and almost 300,000 masks distributed. Further, $1.1 million was distributed as direct cash assistance to clients with immediate needs, assisting them with rent and utilities relief. Their work helps ONB understand the needs of community residents.
In 2020, ONB received a two-year, $8 million investment from Blue Meridian Partners to support place-based investments for city residents in the 02908 and 02909 zip codes to address social and economic disparities through systems change.
Rhode Island Foundation serves as the fiscal sponsor of this Central Providence Opportunities Initiative.
In partnership with the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH), ONB has also launched the Doula Workforce Development Initiative. This training series will strengthen the network of doulas living or working in the nine neighborhoods of 02908 and 02909. Increased access to doula services has been shown to have positive long-term impact on Black maternal health, early education outcomes, and economic mobility. This program will allow more doulas and clients to connect when new legislation goes into effect that requires all insurance providers to cover doula services.
The ONB 18-member Resident Advisory Council supports resident leaders in creating the community change they want to see. It has overseen distribution so far of $100,400 in Community Impact Funds to 21 businesses and organizations. The grants, of up to $5,000 each, are used to support creative, community-driven projects that impact residents in the 02908 and 02909 zip codes. Their combined resident voices have been central to policy recommendations to the state and the City of Providence for how Federal stimulus funds ought to be spent.
A collaboration between ONB and Social Enterprise Greenhouse (SEG) has produced a business support center in Olneyville, providing small- business owners access to resources to launch and grow their business. Tailored to the needs of local merchants and makers in central Providence, the center will provide access to SEG’s network of business experts, programs and services, free internet and use of computers, technology training and advising, one-on-one support, workshops and community events, and resources to connect individuals to economic and workforce development opportunities.
ONB’s commitment to early education and affordable, high-quality child care for community residents resulted in a state-of-the-art child care center at King Street Commons, to be opened and operated by Children’s Friend this Spring.
The 8,645 square foot daycare facility will have three pre-kindergarten classrooms, two infant/toddler classrooms, and an outdoor playground area.
And ONB remains committed to creating on-ramps to living wages, marrying workforce development with housing development through their partnership with construction-apprenticeship programs, including with Building Futures, an organization that meets industry need for skilled workers through the Registered Apprenticeship system while creating high-wage career opportunities for low-income adults.
“While we know that safe, stable housing is the foundation for all else—it will always be paramount— we also know that we have to support good jobs, early education, and quality health services in order to generate and sustain community-wide change,” says Jen Hawkins. “Comprehensive community development has always been in our DNA.”