By Stephen Ide
ONE Neighborhood Builders
EAST PROVIDENCE — ONE Neighborhood Builders broke ground for a 16-unit affordable housing development along Bullocks Point Avenue on Monday, April 10, 2023.
About 45 people attended the event on Monday, which launched a unique, forward-thinking development that forges a partnership between ONE|NB and Foster Forward, an East Providence nonprofit who’s mission is to empower lives impacted by foster care.
Lisa Guillette, executive director of Foster Forward, highlighted the challenges faced by young people who leave the foster care system without proper support, noting they are at risk of homelessness. Guillette thanked Rhode Island Housing and the City of East Providence for working with Foster Forward to obtain vouchers that provide subsidized rental support for these young people. She also expressed hope for more affordable housing developments for young people and families in Rhode Island.
“Without proper supports, young people aging out of foster care in this country, more than a quarter of them, will experience homelessness within one year of leaving the foster care system,” she said. “But that’s not going to happen here in East Providence because of this incredible partnership.”
East Providence Mayor Bob DaSilva expressed his gratitude to those investing in the community and helping deal with housing insecurity and shortages throughout the state. He mentioned several other ONE|NB projects in East Providence, including the Aldersbridge at East Point project that will be geared toward the LGBTQ+ community and an upcoming project that will turn a former dorm facility and vacant lots into affordable housing for those currently homeless and those aging out of foster care.
“What you’re doing is God’s work,” DaSilva said of Riverside Square and other ONE|NB developments. “What your team does … will make a difference in our community and for those people who are struggling.”
In introducing the day’s speakers, ONE|NB’s Executive Director Jennifer Hawkins talked about the need to work in partnership with others in order to get housing built, and she reiterated her gratitude to the General Assembly for allocating a historic $250 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for housing. She noted, however, that only $170 million of that was set aside to produce and preserve housing.
Hawkins explained the history of the property. In 2013, the buildings that made up the Vamco jewelry factory were demolished, she said, and the city underwent remediation of the property. ONE|NB was selected as the developer in 2020, and went on to meet with the community to create housing in keeping with the area and the adjacent East Bay Bike Path, she said.
The site needed additional remediation and coordination with Rhode Island Housing before ONE|NB could break ground.
“We take on the thorniest projects, the projects that often have an outsized impact, and an opportunity for innovation, and the residents at Riverside square definitely represent that type of project,” she said, adding: “Developing affordable housing is not for the faint of heart. It’s also very clearly not a one-person show. This work requires exceptional coordination and strong relationships, as the partners joining me today demonstrate.”
Rhode Island’s Secretary of Housing Stefan Pryor praised the partnerships that made Residences of Riverside Square a reality.
He noted that Rhode Island’s housing production level is one of the lowest in the country, which creates a squeeze on all Rhode Islanders and especially impacts the lowest-income residents. To address this issue, the state must build more affordable housing and increase production across the board, he said.
While he praised the quarter billion dollars allocated for affordable housing, he noted that that it is not enough, and that Rhode Island needs to create tools to routinely produce affordable housing.
“I was proud to be one of the co-authors of that initial plan for that $250 million,” Pryor said. “That’s historic. That’s crucial. That’s generous. And it is not enough. It is not enough.
Senator Valarie Lawson recognized the importance of the partnership between ONE|NB and Foster Forward. As an educator, she said, she acknowledges the need for such projects and hopes that future opportunities like this can be expanded. She said she hopes to accelerate the timeline for the Taunton Avenue project and considers projects like these as an investment in the future.
Rep. Matthew Dawson commended Mayor DaSilva and his leadership in East Providence, pointing out that the ARPA funds made available last year for housing are a catalyst for the progress being made. As a resident of the area for 55 years, he called an empty building (the former Vamco factory) a “blight on the community,” and he emphasized the need for more housing like the Residences at Riverside Square.
Rhode Island Housing’s Executive Director Carol Ventura acknowledged the partnership with between ONE|NB and Foster Forward and said she hopes that partnership will continue in future developments. Ventura noted the importance of having more developments that provide a mix of apartments to serve a range of household incomes.
“In a time where housing demand is so high as the Secretary said, rents are spiraling out of control. This is a step in the right direction,” Ventura said.