News & Event
By Amanda Milkovitz / Journal Staff Writer
Posted Sep 16, 2017 at 9:58 PM
Updated Sep 16, 2017 at 9:58 PM
Some 500 veterans attended the Operation Stand Down/Rhode Island outreach event at Diamond Hill State Park.
CUMBERLAND, R.I. — They served their country — some decades ago, some just recently, and some who deployed again and again.
And when they returned, some of them disappeared into the shadows of society and ended up on the streets, struggling and feeling forgotten by a public that claims to honor its veterans.
This is what three Vietnam veterans from Rhode Island — Tony DeQuattro, Robert O’Connor and Jack Ordner — saw happening to fellow servicemen and women decades ago. And, DeQuattro said Saturday, he was tired of waiting for the government to help.
So, 25 years ago, the three men held the first Operation Stand Down/Rhode Island outreach event. They set up a military-style tent city at the old Ladd School, in Exeter, and bused in homeless and at-risk veterans to spend the weekend, getting free medical and legal care, haircuts, and services from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Forty veterans came to that first event.
This weekend, it was more like 500. And at Diamond Hill State Park, where the event has been held for the last 23 years, the number of volunteers and services have also expanded to help homeless veterans.
RIPTA and shuttle buses brought in veterans from all across the state. The District Court and Traffic Tribunal set up tents to help veterans deal with court costs, expungements and traffic violations, while the state Department of Motor Vehicles assisted them with reinstating licenses. Veterans could get haircuts, dental care, medical and mental health services, check if they have unclaimed property, and pick up clothing.
Gov. Gina Raimondo, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Brig. Gen. Christopher P. Callahan of the R.I. National Guard and other Rhode Island dignitaries served meals. The veterans slept on fresh bedding and cots in tents named for fallen Rhode Island servicemen and women. Rhode Island motorcycle clubs provided security; most have members who are veterans.
The setting was meant to invoke memories of their military service, when they were treated with dignity and respect. In military terms, “stand down” means safety and rest.
Over the last 25 years, the need hasn’t changed, DeQuattro said. If anything, it’s grown with each new war.
So has Operation Stand Down/Rhode Island. The nonprofit organization now helps about 2,000 homeless and at-risk veterans find housing, employment and help with veterans benefits year-round.
DeQuattro’s youngest daughter, Dee DeQuattro Rothermel, was only 4 years old when it started, and she remembers playing with other children who came with their veteran parents. She realized as she grew older that those families were probably homeless.
Now communications and development director for Operation Stand Down, DeQuattro Rothermel said the event is still a family affair. She met her husband, David Rothermel, a Marine, when he arrived at an outreach seven years ago and asked to volunteer. The couple came up with the “Boots on the Ground” memorial two years ago, as a way to honor the fallen.
“My dad is very modest, but it’s a huge thing that he started 25 years ago,” she said. “We’re proud of him. It’s an accomplishment.”
DeQuattro spoke to the gathering of veterans at a ceremony Saturday afternoon.
“I do it because God told me to,” DeQuattro told them, “and because we have to take care of our brothers and sisters.”
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
2200 Southwood Drive, Nashua, NH
We invite you to be a part of the second New England Lead Conference taking place on Wednesday, November 1, 2017 in Nashua, NH. Hosted by the New England Lead Coordinating Committee, the conference will include a variety of educational sessions focusing on lead prevention, policy, model programs, outreach, the EPA’s Renovation, Remodeling and Repair Rule (RRP), lead abatement, compliance, and the economics of lead poisoning.
Read more >
October 4, 2017 in Events, Local Interest
The Narragansett Times: Dziobek steps down as Welcome House director
By KENDRA GRAVELLE Sep 29, 2017
SOUTH KINGSTOWN—When Joseph Dziobek accepted the position of executive director of Welcome House of South County nearly three years ago, he had expected the job would make for a simple transition into retirement.
But what was intended as a part-time gig turned into much more than that for Dziobek, who this week left his post.
“It’s been a challenge,” said Dziobek, whose last day on the job was Monday. “And it’s been very satisfying—I feel very close to the people who have been a part of it.”
Dziobek, 66, took the job at Welcome House after retiring from his career as CEO of Fellowship Health Resources. He said he intended only to stay for two or three years.
October 4, 2017 in Local Interest
Final Days to Register: 2017 Housing Fact Book Release
Date: Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Luncheon: 12:00pm - 1:30pm
Location: Rhode Island Convention Center, 1 Sabin Street, Providence RI
October 3, 2017 in Events, Local Interest
Rhode Island College: The Defamation Experience
Monday, October 30, 2017
5:00PM - Doors Open
6:00PM - Performance
SPONSORED BY: THE DIVISION OF COMMUNITY EQUITY AND DIVERSITY AND THE DIVISION OF STUDENT SUCCESS
THE PLAY * THE DELIBERATION * THE DISCUSSION
September 27, 2017 in Events, Local Interest
NLIHC: Sign Letters to Support Equitable Housing Recovery after Devastating Hurricanes
Help ensure that low income people and neighborhoods are treated fairly after Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. A broad coalition of national, state, and local organizations is calling on Congress, FEMA, and HUD to ensure that the federal response to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria is complete and equitable for everyone, especially families and individuals with the lowest incomes who are often the hardest hit by disasters and have the fewest resources to recover afterwards.
September 27, 2017 in Local Interest, National News
Roger Williams University: Social Justice Month Events
Thursday, Oct 19
Mary Tefft White Center
How Housing Works
4:00pm – 6:00pm
Sponsored by Housing Works RI and RWU Chief Diversity Officer
Keywords: socioeconomic status, race, jobs, housing, equity
Workshop with Brenda Clement, Director of Housing Works Rhode Island and Ame Lambert, RWU Chief Diversity Officer.
An overview of housing issues in Rhode Island and connections to the larger social justice agenda.
September 25, 2017 in Local Interest
Providence Journal: People on the move for the week of Sept. 17
Posted Sep 13, 2017 at 5:34 PM
Updated Sep 13, 2017 at 5:34 PM
Rhode Island LISC
Rhode Island Local Initiatives Support Corportation has welcomed two new employees. Jeremiah O’Grady, of Lincoln, joined LISC as program officer after spending more than 12 years at ONE Neighborhood Builders as real estate project manager and director of asset management and operations.
Liz Klinkenberg, of Warwick, was hired as communications director. She brings more than 15 years of public relations experience to her new position, including work for The Miami Herald and The Providence Journal.
The Providence American: Reed Announces $300k in Community Development Grants for NeighborWorks Affiliates
WASHINGTON, DC – In an effort to promote healthy, vibrant neighborhoods across Rhode Island, U.S. Senator Jack Reed today announced an additional $300,000 in federal funding for three Rhode Island-based affiliates of NeighborWorks America (NeighborWorks). These federal funds will help NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley, ONE Neighborhood Builders, and West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation to provide affordable housing opportunities, generate job growth, and enhance economic stability for working families. Earlier this year, Senator Reed also helped to secure over $750,000 in federal funding for NeighborWorks affiliates in Rhode Island, bringing total NeighborWorks investment in the state to above $1 million for fiscal year 2017.
September 21, 2017 in Federal News, Local Interest
The Providence American: Providence Unveils PVD Gives Donation Station
PROVIDENCE, RI – Mayor Jorge O. Elorza today joined members of the City Council, public safety officials, and community leaders who have been named to the PVD Gives commission for the unveiling of the City’s first Donation Station at Kennedy Plaza. The retrofitted parking meter is one of ten stations that will be installed across the city to collect funds that will support local organizations that provide housing and services to those in need.
“PVD Gives and the new Donation Stations make it easier to give back,” said Mayor Jorge Elorza. “Our collective generosity can make all the difference in the lives of those striving to get back on their feet. I encourage visitors and residents to chip in and be part of the solution.”
September 21, 2017 in Local Interest
Providence Journal: Report: New England losing 65 acres of forestland per day
By Steve LeBlanc / Associated Press
Posted Sep 19, 2017 at 11:21 AM
Updated Sep 19, 2017 at 11:21 AM
BOSTON — New England has been losing forestland to development at a rate of 65 acres per day — a loss that comes at a time when public funding for preservation of open land, both state and federal, has also been on the decline in all six states.
That’s the conclusion of a report released Tuesday by the Harvard Forest, a research institute of Harvard University.
The study found public funding for land conservation in New England dropped by half between 2008 and 2014 to $62 million per year, slightly lower than 2004 levels.
Alan Berube, Monday, February 5, 2018
Research has historically framed income inequality as a national issue, one best addressed through national monetary and fiscal policies that raise demand for labor and redistribute resources from the rich to the poor. Yet widening disparities across and within places in the United States, revealed in debates around wages, housing affordability, and public safety, have motivated policymakers and researchers to pay increased attention to inequality’s local dimensions.
Now, many cities’ aggressive bids for Amazon’s second headquarters are heightening anxieties that the company’s expansion could further accelerate inequality wherever it eventually lands (as many say it has in Seattle). The debate about Amazon fits into a wider set of concerns about the tech sector’s role in contributing to income inequality, via the winner-take-all dynamics of the digital economy.
Amid these currents, this piece updates previous Brookings Metro analysesto examine trends in household income inequality in the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas and their most populous central cities from 2014 to 2016. As with earlier analyses, it uses data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey on household income at the 95th percentile of the distribution (i.e., where only 5 percent of households earn more) and the 20th percentile of the distribution (i.e., where 20 percent of households earn less). It uses the ratio between those incomes as a principal measure of inequality in cities and metro areas. Key findings include:
Among big cities, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. exhibited the highest rates of income inequality in 2016. The top 5 percent of households in these cities earned incomes at least 18 times as high as the bottom 20 percent of households. Relatively wealthy cities including Boston, New York, and San Francisco, as well as cities struggling with high poverty such as Buffalo, Miami, New Orleans, and Providence, also registered high rates of income disparity. In general, older cities with fewer middle-class neighborhoods and larger amounts of subsidized housing tended to exhibit higher inequality. Newer, more geographically expansive cities such as Columbus, Jacksonville, and Virginia Beach, as well as those with stronger middle-class employment like Allentown and Oxnard, had among the lowest levels of income inequality.
Levels of inequality in cities reflect broader income disparities in metropolitan areas. Four of the 10 cities with the highest levels of inequality are located in one of the 10 most unequal metropolitan areas (Boston, New Orleans, New York, San Francisco). Conversely, three of the cities with the lowest levels of inequality are located in one of the 10 most equal metropolitan areas (Des Moines, Lakeland, Virginia Beach). This indicates that city inequality reflects not only local housing dynamics but also wider industrial and income patterns in the regional labor market. Notably, three regions along Utah’s Wasatch Front—Salt Lake City, Provo, and Ogden—exhibit the lowest levels of income inequality among their metropolitan peers.
More cities experienced declines in income inequality from 2014 to 2016 than saw increases. While few cities overall saw income disparities between rich and poor households change by a statistically significant margin, among those that did, declines in income inequality (eight) outnumbered increases (five). From 2014 to 2016, high-income households in 30 cities logged significant income gains, as did low-income households in 34 cities. (In only one city—Rochester—did low-income households suffer a statistically significant income decline.) The net effect reduced income disparities in Charlotte, Dallas, Jackson, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Knoxville, Louisville, and Salt Lake City, but pushed them higher in Baltimore, Detroit, Omaha, Rochester, and Washington, D.C.
In contrast to the city pattern, increases in metropolitan income inequality outnumbered declines. From 2014 to 2016, 12 metropolitan areas registered a statistically significant increase in income inequality. In most of those places, high-income households enjoyed income gains while low-income households did not. In Honolulu and San Jose, top incomes rose by an estimated $60,000 in two years’ time, but did not change significantly for low earners. Only eight metro areas achieved declines in income inequality, with lower-income households posting larger income gains (in percentage terms) than higher-income households in most of those markets. Metro areas where income disparities narrowed included many of the cities—Charlotte, Dallas, Kansas City, Knoxville, and Louisville—where income inequality declined, as well as Boston, New Haven, and Salt Lake City.
Some cities posted stunning increases in top incomes from 2014 to 2016. The most astonishing changes in the mid-2010s occurred among high-income households in a few cities characterized by booming technology economies. In just two years, incomes for 95th percentile households in San Francisco rose nearly $120,000. (Median home sales prices, meanwhile, increased by $250,000.) Austin and Seattle posted increases of nearly $65,000 for high-income households, while high household incomes in San Jose rose by more than $50,000. Raleigh topped all cities for 20th percentile income growth at $7,200, which was large in percentage terms (30 percent) but a far cry in absolute terms from the $35,000 increase the city posted at the 95th percentile level.
Income trends at the top of the distribution in cities and metro areas had little relationship to trends at the bottom of the distribution from 2014 to 2016. In cities and metro areas where high-income households posted the greatest gains, low-income households didn’t fare any better or worse than those in other cities. For instance, although 20th percentile incomes in Austin, San Francisco, and Seattle rose by significant margins, they failed to increase significantly in other cities where 95th percentile incomes boomed, such as Baltimore, Denver, San Jose, and Washington, D.C. At the same time, incomes at the lower end of the distribution grew significantly in several cities—Boston, Charlotte, Louisville, Salt Lake City—where top incomes did not.
For those concerned about the effects of high inequality in the United States generally, and in our large urban centers specifically, these city and metropolitan income trends from 2014 to 2016 present some quandaries.
On the one hand, the trends indicate that ameliorating inequality is possible. In several places, low-income households achieved faster income gains than high-income households.
On the other hand, even as a tighter labor market began to drive up wages in the mid-2010s, the relative gap between the rich and poor still widened in a number of cities and metro areas. And even in places where low- and high-income households made comparable progress in percentage terms, the absolute income difference between rich and poor often grew substantially. The inequality ratio did not change in San Francisco, but the distance between its 20th and 95th percentile incomes grew by an estimated $114,000.
Moreover, at least in the short run, city and metropolitan income trends do not suggest the existence of a rising tide lifting all boats, but rather separate ebbs and flows for households at different extremes of the distribution. Even if, as Enrico Moretti and other researchers suggest, local innovation economies generate greater opportunities for workers in less-skilled industries, those opportunities may not materialize overnight, and low-income workers and families could get priced out of a city in the meantime.
While this analysis is too brief to identify the underlying economic or policy factors that may explain those disparities, Brookings Metro’s forthcomingMetro Monitor update will shed further light on how and why economic inclusion is changing in metropolitan areas. Regardless, the distinctively local dynamics of inequality in our major urban areas reaffirm the importance of local leadership for understanding and improving access to economic opportunity for lower-income households in ways that reduce disparities over the longer term.
Cecile Murray provided valuable research assistance for this analysis.
Courtesy of Brookings
By Christine Dunn, Journal Staff Writer
Posted Nov 30, 2017 at 12:10PM, Updated Nov 30, 2017 at 12:26PM
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A playground for an elementary school in South Providence, downtown revitalization in Woonsocket, and a new continuing-education center in Central Falls were among the projects that won support in the first round of awards from the $10-million urban revitalization/blight relief fund approved by state voters in 2016 as part of the $50-million affordable housing bond.
The Rhode Island Housing Board of Commissioners on Thursday morning approved close to $3.8 million in awards to six different projects. The next round of awards is planned for March 2018. Known formally as the Acquisition and Revitalization Program, its aim is to stabilize neighborhoods by targeting foreclosed or blighted residential and commercial properties and vacant lots in need of redevelopment.
Although ARP financing is available statewide, 75 percent of the funding has been set aside for urban communities.
A request for proposals went out in July, and 18 proposals requesting $10.9 million were received. Nine of the proposals failed to meet requirements. The awards approved by the board Thursday are:
—- $1 million for the Dexter Adult Learning and Workforce Development Hub in Central Falls, in a vacant building at 934 Dexter St., formerly the Dexter Credit Union building. The hub is being developed by the City of Central Falls and Rhode Island College. The project, with an estimated cost of $5.8 million, is also being supported by state and federal historic tax credits, and EPA brownfields money.
— $975,000 for the Millrace District Creative Placemaking Initiative in downtown Woonsocket. Three vacant mills at 15 Island Place and 69 South Main St. are being redeveloped as housing and commercial space by NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley, a nonprofit community development agency. There will be 58 live-work units and 6 commercial units. Rhode Island Housing said this award is for the commercial part of the project only.
— $612,484 for the Bailey Baxter Playspace Project. Working with the Nature Conservancy, the City of Providence will create a playground for the Bailey Elementary School at 65 Gordon Ave. and improve adjacent Baxter Park by redeveloping two vacant and blighted properties with lots at 56, 57, 58, 61, 62 and 66 Baxter Street. The total cost is $890,385, and the effort is also being financed by the City of Providence and Community Development Block Grant funds.
— $906,369 for Georgiaville Village Green, Smithfield’s first affordable housing development for families, at the intersection of Higgins Street and Whipple Avenue. There will be 42 apartments built for households earning less than 60 percent of area median income. It is an $11-million development by Coventry Housing Associates Corp. and Gemini Housing Corp.
— $146,727 for SWAP Inc. for 136 Rugby St., Providence.; and
— $153,528 for SWAP Inc. for 44 Lillian Ave., Providence. SWAP (Stop Wasting Abandoned Properties) will develop two-family homes on two vacant lots. Each house will include a three-bedroom homeownership apartment and a two-bedroom rental unit.
On Twitter: @ChristineMDunn
Courtesy of Providence Journal
By Sophie Kasakove / Special to The Journal
Posted Dec 6, 2017 at 11:15 PM Updated Dec 6, 2017 at 11:19 PM
CRANSTON, R.I. — On Perkins Avenue, a long row of suburban homes comes to a sudden end — instead, trees and shrubs grow freely and wild turkeys shuffle through tall grass. It’s hard to believe that it’s been only seven years since the 10 homes that used to occupy these plots were demolished.
The neighborhood is located a short distance from the Pawtuxet River. In 2010, the homes on Perkins Avenue, like many across the city and the state, were devastated by the most severe flooding to hit the region in recent memory. Instead of rebuilding these homes, prone to flooding from the Pawtuxet, some Cranston residents opted to seek higher ground.
“I had water coming in the first-floor windows over the counter and the stove, and the basement was totally filled up with seven or eight feet of water,” recalled Brian Dupont, a lifelong Cranston resident until 2010, in a phone interview. For decades, his two houses on Perkins Avenue had flooded regularly, and he’d spent years trying to pressure city and state officials to steer funding for flood response toward buying flood-prone homes from homeowners who wanted to move to less risky areas. Finally, in 2010, people started listening.
Dupont and his neighbors began holding meetings of the Pawtuxet River Flood Association in the Portuguese Club on Second Avenue. “We sent out fliers, walked the neighborhoods, did whatever we needed to do to get noticed,” Dupont recalled. “We got over a hundred people to join — we packed the room. The local news stations were down there, the Weather Channel was down there. People realized that buyouts were a good thing for everyone.”
Soon after the flood, Peter Lapolla, Cranston’s planning director, and his colleagues in city government applied for a Community Development Block Grant through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to buy and demolish the Perkins Avenue houses. “These are 40-year-old houses that we’ve seen get flooded two, three, four, five times,” Lapolla said. “They should not have been built in the first place, and it’s easier to just make them go away.”
In 2013, both of Dupont’s houses were bought out with the HUD grant. “It broke my heart, especially knowing that this would really destroy the life of the neighborhood. But we just couldn’t deal with it anymore,” Dupont said.
Many other residents leapt at the opportunity to escape from both regular flooding and costly flood insurance. Of the 32 houses eligible for a buyout, every owner was willing to accept.
But the HUD grant was only enough to purchase nine homes, a “drop in the bucket,” according to Dupont. He said many of the other homes entered foreclosure because owners could not afford to keep paying their mortgages while also paying for a place to stay while the flood damage was repaired.
Three more grants in the following years from the Federal Emergency Management Agency have allowed the city to buy a total of 21 houses, with the latest grant awarded just this year. All of these houses are “repetitive loss” properties — those designated as most prone to flooding based on FEMA’s maps.
But the reach of the program has been limited. Each time the city has applied for a grant, the process has been delayed for months by appraisal and assessment obstacles. The process is so slow, the city’s buyout program has come to a standstill. Lapolla said they’re concerned that filing too many grant applications at once will trap the requests in FEMA’s bureaucratic limbo.
And Cranston has had better luck than most cities. Since its inception, FEMA has prioritized rebuilding far above buyouts. According to a report published this summer by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental group, of the 30,000 properties registered as having the highest flood-risk in the country, only 2,601 property owners received FEMA buyout grants over the past 30 years. A couple thousand more have received assistance for mitigation measures, such as raising the structure’s foundations.
But the vast majority of aid — $5.5 billion total — has gone toward rebuilding homes after flooding, even for homes that flood repeatedly, year after year. The council has calculated that for every $100 FEMA has spent to rebuild properties through the National Flood Insurance Program, only $1.72 has been spent to help people move to less risky areas.
In Rhode Island, where more than 16,000 structures are located within FEMA’s flood plains — a number that will continue to increase as the sea level rises — this disproportionate spending has big consequences. There’s no limit to how many times a homeowner with flood insurance can receive assistance to rebuild the same property, as long as less than half of the house was damaged.
“It’s amazing how many property owners come forward with 47, 48, 49 percent damages,” Jonathan Stone, executive director of Save the Bay, said in an interview in October. “Many of these houses are getting rebuilt exactly the same after they were totaled.”
Stone added that many of these houses are coastal second homes, subsidized again and again by the general taxpayer. One of the flood insurance program’s most recent payouts in Rhode Island was $125,700 to rebuild a single severe repetitive-loss home on Warwick Cove, according to the online publication EcoRI, and confirmed by Bill Facente, a housing officer for the City of Warwick. The New York Times reported in November that one house in Spring, Texas, has been repaired with FEMA funds 19 times, for a total of $912,732 — even though the house is worth only $42,024.
The costs of rebuilding are hitting many Rhode Islanders hard. Since 2012, homeowners across the country have been legally obligated to purchase flood insurance if they live in vulnerable areas. That same year, the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act raised insurance rates in an attempt to lower FEMA’s massive debt — at that time, $25 billion.
That year, Rhode Island homeowners faced rate hikes of as much as 17 percent. While the maximum coverage for a building was $250,000, premiums for high-risk properties could be as much as $20,000 to $50,000 a year under the reform.
Pushback across the country against the rate hike impelled Congress in 2014 to pass the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act, which rolled back some of these increases by reinstating “grandfathered” rates. But the costs are still significantly higher than many Rhode Islanders signed up for when they bought their homes.
In lower-income areas of the state, these costs have left homeowners in a tough spot, struggling to make their monthly payment and unable to find a buyer willing to assume the costs. In an interview, Grover Fugate, executive director of the Coastal Resources Management Council, said a $500 increase in flood insurance can result in as much as a $10,000 reduction in a home’s market value.
Dupont now lives in Warwick and works there as a real-estate agent. He has seen firsthand the dramatic effects of flood insurance on Rhode Island’s housing market.
“I’ve had to sell homes for many, many thousands of dollars less than their true value,” he said. “When potential buyers see the flood insurance cost, they also know that [the cost of insurance] never goes down, it only goes up.”
Dupont said these costs are particularly hard on elderly homeowners living on fixed incomes, compounding Rhode Island’s severe lack of affordable housing. And it’s these already-struggling homeowners who are most likely to get stuck with high flood insurance costs. Participation in the National Flood Insurance Program is only mandatory for homeowners with a mortgage — those without can opt out. And while some elderly homeowners have paid off their mortgages, he said, many have not.
To ease the burden, some Rhode Island homeowners have been able to get their houses off of FEMA’s list of vulnerable properties by applying for a Letter of Map Amendment or by raising the foundation of their homes to make them less vulnerable to flooding. But for many Rhode Islanders, such renovations or the time-consuming process of applying for an amendment (which often involves hiring surveyors and private insurance agents) come with an upfront cost that is just as untenable as the insurance costs.
In cities such as Cranston, buyouts are a solution to this financial trap. Lapolla says dozens more Cranston residents would volunteer for one if the funds were available. Dupont agrees, recalling the frustration of his neighbors on Perkins Avenue who were denied the buyout after 2010. Most homeowners would receive $100,000 to $200,000 from the city in a buyout — which is likely more than they’d get if they sold to a buyer wary of flood insurance costs, if they could find a buyer at all.
As the National Flood Insurance Program plunges deeper into debt (following the most recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida, it exhausted its $30-billion borrowing capacity and had to get a bailout just to keep paying current claims), many politicians and environmental activists are pushing for a serious reconsideration of its structure. The flood insurance program is set to expire Friday night, and while Congress is likely to renew it, the date offers an opening to modify the program to better suit the needs of an increasingly flood-prone housing stock.
Sophie Kasakove is a senior at Brown University, where she will graduate this month. She is also a writer and editor at the College Hill Independent and a Swearer Center Storytellers Fellow.
PROVIDENCE – The latest national magazine to sing the praises of Providence was Vogue, in its March 15 edition, in an article entitled, “Why Providence Should Be Your Next Weekend Getaway” when looking for great food, music and art.
The story by writer Julia Sherman began with an evocative opening sentence: “For now, I bounce from coast to coast, but I plan to die in Providence.”
Sherman continued: “I was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design more than a decade ago, and the magic of that jewel-box of a city still pulls on my heartstrings. It’s the Victorian homes, industrial buildings, the charmingly gruff New England personalities, and concentration of Italian-American markets that have kept me coming back.”
In Sherman’s view, “The town is divided by the Providence River, separating the posh, College Hill area to its east, and the grittier, fast-developing downtown, Olneyville, Federal Hill, and Atwells to the west. Most tourists will cling to the picturesque, colonial Benefit Street, with its gas lamps and pristine mansions, but that’s only a tiny sliver of what the city has to offer. This place has chutzpah. It’s the blue-collar dive bar and the Ivy League, it’s Mayflower meets crust punk.”
Left out of Sherman’s travelogue was the West End of Providence, where tourists can encounter what many residents call the cultural mecca of diversity in Providence, with Cranston Street serving as a kind of international boulevard.
Angela B. Ankoma, executive vice president and director of Community Investment at United Way of Rhode Island and a long-time resident of the West End community of Providence, hopes that one day the West End and Cranston Street will become “a destination and not a thoroughfare.”
Ankoma, who grew up in the West End, a child of African immigrants, and who is now raising her family there, thought it was a great idea that travelers should come to Providence and see the city as a destination place those who hunger for a terrific cultural experience.
“I agree,” Ankoma said emphatically, during a recent impromptu tour of the West End neighborhood with ConvergenceRI. “They should.”
The West End of Providence, Ankoma continued, can be seen as the cultural mecca of Providence’s diverse communities. “I want the West End to be one of those places that you have to go there to experience what it is like to be among the various cultures of the world who call Providence home. I want it to be a destination, not a pass through.”
But, Ankoma added: “Let’s just make sure that people who live in Providence can stay in Providence. That’s my concern. I want to be able to stay here. I want to be able to grow old here. You should be able to [do so]. There should be thoughtful, intentional actions to ensure all of us can enjoy living here.”
What makes up an “engaged” community?
The idea of an impromptu tour grew out of a series of ongoing conversations that ConvergenceRI has had with Ankoma and others over the last year, attempting to answer what was the meaning of neighborhood and community in the digital world of the 21st century we live in.
How was a neighborhood identified and recognized? Was it by geographical or cultural boundaries? Was it where you lived? Where your family had lived? More importantly, how did residents see themselves as belonging as members of an engaged community, during a time when boundaries were becoming more fluid, where shopping was more often done online, and when social media was often the predominant source of connection?
Those questions have taken on a sense of urgency as Providence continues to attract new companies, new enterprises and the new talent to fill the job opportunities, and with it, the increased pressures of real estate development that puts stress on existing residents not to be displaced by higher rents caused by gentrification and, with it, the growing lack of affordable housing.
One response to define “engagement” has been the TogetherRI initiative by The Rhode Island Foundation, which launches this week, an attempt by the community foundation to address what Neil Steinberg, the president and CEO, called the increasing feeling of not being heard by Rhode Islanders.
A different kind of conversation will take place on Saturday, April 28, at the Neighborhood Housing Summit, to be held at the Southside Cultural Center on Broad Street, to talk with residents of the communities of South Providence and the West End to “prepare your community for the future through vision setting, housing education and dialogue.”
A third approach to redefining the West End community is the more tangible construction of Urban Greens, with its poured concrete and steel in the ground, the first full-service large grocery store in the neighborhood.
As Ankoma described the importance of Urban Greens, “It’s good to have a diversity of choices – a corner store if you want.” But, before the expansion of Urban Greens, “There were no large full-service markets in the neighborhood.”
Ankoma continued: ‘You can become an investor; you can be a member. You can go there to shop, maybe have a meeting, or have some coffee. I think it is time for us to have that option in the West End neighborhood.”
Another important approach to redefining community is the work being done by the West Elmwood Community Development Corporation and its Sankofa Initiative, which has built affordable housing and connected it with urban growing spaces, including a hoop greenhouse, and a new commercial kitchen, to complement its Sankofa summertime marketplace.
Defining boundaries in the West End
The impromptu tour of the West End began on Bucklin Street at the West End Community Center and the West End Recreation Center, adjacent to Bucklin Park, which Ankoma called “the Central Park of the West End, because it is the center of everything.”
On a cold Saturday morning in mid-March, there was a steady stream of children and parents entering and leaving the recreation center.
Originally, the park had once been a spring-fed pond, surrounded by farmland, and the location of the Bucklin Ice Company, according to Ankoma.
The name of Bucklin came from James Bucklin, a Providence architect who was the designer of The Arcade in downtown Providence.
At some point, the pond was filled in as the neighborhood changed and became the home of manufacturing and jewelry factories.
Today, the community center, which is separate from the recreation center, has lots of different social services, including a food pantry, a before and after school care program for kids, and a daycare program. The recreation center includes an outdoor pool; the park is home to a host of programs and leagues, including the West Elmwood Intruders football team, and adult baseball and softball leagues.
Given the heavy use of Bucklin Park, the Mayor’s Office has held community meetings about plans to invest in improvements, according to Ankoma.
“From what I understand, this summer there is going to be a substantial investment in an upgrading of [Bucklin Park] and amenities at the park, which will be good,” she said.
In 2016, 300 volunteers and MetLife built a new playground in a day, adjacent to the recreation center, according to Ankoma.
Also in 2016, a group called Friends of Bucklin Park organized residents to work with the city and plant trees and create a butterfly garden, to be more thoughtful about park stewardship, according to Ankoma.
Evolution of a changing neighborhood
The neighborhood of the West End is still largely defined by its former life as the home to numerous factories and manufacturers, which provided steady jobs, and with that, two- and three-family homes that served as affordable residences for workers, attracting each new wave of immigrants to the city for decades.
Today, many of the brick factory buildings are abandoned; others are being repurposed as commercial development; still others have been housing sites.
Ankoma pointed out the abandoned factory where her uncle used to work as well as the former factories that had been recently sold for commercial development to create an indoor shopping space. A third former factory building on Burwell Street is being repurposed as mixed used, including housing, a kind of speakeasy, and a food incubator, according to Ankoma.
“I heard that there is a new ice cream company, The Fountain, that plans to be located there,” ConvergenceRI said.
“An ice cream company? That’s cool,” Ankoma said, and laughed.
Turning onto the congested Cranston Street, crowded with pedestrians and shoppers on a Saturday morning, entering and exiting a multitude of stores, Ankoma talked about the fact that the West End was one of the city’s most diverse neighborhoods.
“We should celebrate that,” she said.
What’s the best way to celebrate that diversity? ConvergenceRI asked.
“By honoring each culture,” Ankoma responded. “I always think that here we are on Cranston Street, and maybe we should have flags representing all of the different cultures of the neighborhood on display.”
Ankoma continued: “That’s what makes this community great; that’s what makes America great,” and burst out in a peal of laughter, realizing that she invoked President Donald Trump’s trademark phrase, but with a different intent.
How would you designate Cranston Street? ConvergenceRI asked
Ankoma answered: “By [acknowledging] that Cranston Street is an international boulevard, and display flags and murals of all the cultures represented in the community.’
If we were to do cultural celebrations, she said, “We could do it on this street.”
Cranston Street, Ankoma continued, is a corridor – it is the corridor into Providence if you are coming from Cranston. “This is the gateway.”
Courtesy of ConvergenceRI
Posted Oct 11, 2017 at 12:01 AM
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — For families with household incomes below $50,000, the improving housing market in 2016 meant rising prices, and fewer homes and apartments they can afford to rent or buy, according to a new report from HousingWorks RI at Roger Williams University.
The report found that in 2016, only two communities, Central Falls and Providence (not counting the East Side) offered “homes for sale that fit a household budget of under $50,000.”
For renters, there was no municipality in the state where the average cost of a two-bedroom rental apartment was affordable on a household income of $30,934, the median income for Rhode Island renters.
Even for renters earning less than $50,000, there were just six communities where the average rent price was “affordable:” Central Falls, Cranston, East Providence, Pawtucket, Providence (without the East Side) and Woonsocket.
Housing is deemed “affordable” if housing costs consume no more than 30 percent of a household’s gross income.
“Simply put, Rhode Island needs more housing,” said Barbara Fields, executive director of Rhode Island Housing. “The real estate market is booming right now, and that means housing prices are rising — which puts pressure on families who are already struggling to get by. The good news is that we have already begun taking steps to increase production, and the $50 million housing bond that passed last year is a start.”
As the “affordability gap” grew, there was also a jump in the number of foreclosures last year. There were 1,561 foreclosure deeds issued in the Ocean State in 2016, an increase of 32 percent compared with 2015, according to the 2017 Housing Fact Book.
In addition, “Rhode Island’s rate of seriously delinquent loans is still among the highest in the United States, ranking ninth in the fourth quarter of 2016,” the report added.
The Fact Book, an annual report from HousingWorks RI, tracks affordability and other housing issues across the state. It was scheduled for release Wednesday at HousingWorks’ annual luncheon, which this year includes a morning panel discussion “offering an in-depth look at the numbers.” HousingWorks RI is a nonprofit research group that became part of Roger Williams University in 2014.
The Fact Book also tracked an increase in 2016 in building permits, which rose by 23 percent to 1,226 permits. But this level is still far below projected needs.
“As noted in the Projecting Future Housing Needs Report (2016), commissioned by Rhode Island Housing, over the next 10 years there is an anticipated need for more than 34,000 new homes,” the Fact Book added, and “demand is for more than 27,000 of those to be multifamily and able to serve households with incomes less than 80 percent of area median income ($40,400 to $68,000 for households of one to four across the state).”
But many communities still have far to go in reaching the state-mandated goal of having 10 percent of their housing stock be long-term, deed-restricted affordable housing, the report added. Just five communities have met the goal: Central Falls, Newport, New Shoreham, Providence and Woonsocket.
Communities with less than 3 percent include: Barrington (2.66), Charlestown (2.86), Exeter (2.36), Foster (2.05), Glocester (2.23), Little Compton (0.56 percent), Portsmouth (2.83), Richmond (1.89), Scituate (0.85), and West Greenwich (1.41). However, statewide, the average is up to 8.29 percent.
Rhode Island continues to have an exceptionally low homeownership rate, particularly for communities of color.
“At 60 percent, Rhode Island has the lowest rate of homeownership among the six New England states, and ranks 46th nationally,” the report added. “Across race and ethnicity, homeownership rates in Rhode Island show great disparity. White residents have a homeownership rate of 65 percent, while Latino, Black and Asian household rates are 28 percent, 31 percent and 50 percent, respectively.”
R.I. housing costs, 2016
Median house price: $239,900
Income needed to afford this: $68,065
Average two-bedroom rent: $1,288
Income needed to afford this: $51,520
SOURCE: 2017 HOUSING FACT BOOK
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