During an interview on ABC6’s “In the Arena,” Jennifer Hawkins, the President and Executive Director of ONE Neighborhood Builders, discussed several key housing points with host Joe Paolino. Here’s a summary of the major points of the interview:
Hawkins introduced ONE Neighborhood Builders as a nonprofit community development organization based in Providence. ONE|NB focuses on affordable housing development and convenes collective impact initiatives in Central Providence.
History and Mission: Hawkins mentioned that ONE Neighborhood Builders started 35 years ago as Olneyville Housing Corporation, primarily focused on building housing. In 2015, they merged with another CDC and expanded their scope, leading to the name change. ONE|NB’s mission is to build healthy, vibrant, and safe neighborhoods, she said.
Affordable Housing: Hawkins explained that affordable housing is a complex issue that requires subsidies. She distinguished between lowercase “affordable” (based on individuals’ income levels) and capital “A” affordable (governed by Rhode Island state law). She emphasized the need for abundant housing options across different income levels to address the state’s housing shortage.
Cost of Affordable Housing: Paolino raised concerns about the cost of building affordable housing, considering high interest rates and regulations. Hawkins acknowledged the high construction costs, mentioning it is around $250 per square foot. She argued for the importance of developing high-quality, sustainable housing while also paying fair wages.
Regulatory Environment: Hawkins acknowledged the need to review and streamline the regulatory environment to reduce costs and speed up the development process.
Housing Crisis and Solutions: Hawkins mentioned a recent housing report commissioned by the Rhode Island Foundation, which highlighted the need for thousands of housing units. She proposed that the Department of Housing be more proactive in identifying and preparing development sites, similar to what the Department of Commerce does for commercial development.
Workforce Housing and Challenges: Paolino discussed the need for workforce housing to retain essential professionals in Rhode Island. Hawkins mentioned their portfolio’s high demand and low turnover rate but acknowledged the need to raise awareness about workforce housing options. She also shared that ONE Neighborhood Builders reduced the security deposit to make it more affordable for residents.
Priorities for Housing Secretary Stefan Pryor: When asked about three things she would like to see Secretary Pryor focus on, Hawkins mentioned the importance of addressing homelessness, modernizing regulations and permitting processes, and making the Department of Housing a true partner in development.
Taunton Avenue Collaborative: Hawkins discussed a collaborative project with Crossroads Rhode Island, Family Service of Rhode Island, and Foster Forward. The $60 million project ($47 million in construction costs) involves developing 160 apartments, including permanent supportive housing for extremely low-income individuals and affordable housing for working individuals across income levels.