A crane lowers a modular unit into place at the Bowdoin Street site.
The eight modular units of affordable housing are expected to be ready for occupancy in May.

By Richard Asinov

PROVIDENCE – Four years ago, on a cold January night, an apartment building at 110 Bowdoin St. caught fire. A tenant, 49-year-old woman, who lived on the second floor, died, and was pulled from the rubble. The tragic story made headlines.

Five days earlier, Providence firefighters had been called to inspect the property, and they had found the building littered with space heaters and a nest of extension cords, according to a news report by WPRI. The building was to have been condemned, after the inspectors found it had no heat or running water, once again, according to a news report by WPRI.

In the wake of the tragic fire that swept through the three properties on Bowdoin Street in Olneyville, Jennifer Hawkins, the executive director of ONE Neighborhood Builders, wrote a story for ConvergenceRI about the need to reframe the conversation:

“Last weekend a devastating fire engulfed three properties along Bowdoin Street in the Olneyville neighborhood of Providence, leaving one person dead and displacing nearly two-dozen residents,” Hawkins wrote.

In the aftermath, Hawkins continued, she said she thought about something that Tiffany Manuel, vice president of knowledge, impact and strategy at Enterprise Community Partners, had said during a recent conference, concerning the intersection of race, diversity, inclusion and affordable housing development.

Hawkins wrote: “Manuel offered a casual but hard-hitting aside, which I am paraphrasing: “How many times have you heard that the response to a lack of decent, affordable housing is a U-Haul?” [See ConvergenceRI story, “Why not just move? It is often not a choice.”]

The common thread was addressing the critical need for comprehensive neighborhood development.

Modular housing

In just one week’s time, beginning on Monday, Feb. 28, and ending on Friday, March 4, eight pre-fab homes were placed on the site of the Bowdoin Street, a remarkable feat accomplished under the innovative leadership of Hawkins and her team at ONE Neighborhood Builders, including Milton Baxter, director of Real Estate and General Counsel for the community nonprofit agency.