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Providence Journal: Beneficent House in downtown Providence marks special milestone of success

Published on September 12, 2017

By Christine Dunn

Journal Staff Writer

Posted Sep 11, 2017 at 7:27 PM

Updated Sep 11, 2017 at 7:27 PM

PROVIDENCE — Tracine Johnston worked downtown for the telephone company 20 years ago. She had been living in Kent Heights in East Providence, but wanted to live closer to work. She found a new apartment that fit her budget at Beneficent House.

Juan Guaredo has been living at Beneficent House for 37 years. He said he used to own a two-family house in the city, but he couldn’t manage the upkeep anymore, and wanted to move to an apartment. Kay Chin has lived there almost as long as Guaredo — 34 years.

Another Beneficent House resident, Daniel Scott, waited close to five years for a spot there. He moved into his studio apartment 23 years ago.

When Beneficent House, the 180-unit apartment building at 1 Chestnut St., was built 50 years ago, downtown Providence was in the grips of urban renewal, according to Jonathan K. Farnum, president of the Beneficent House Board of Governors.

Today, the nine-story apartment building is nearly surrounded by Johnson & Wales University and its growing need for space.

Every few months, someone from the university makes an inquiry about buying the apartment building, according to Irene Hope, who is the treasurer of the Board of Governors. Both she and Farnum are also members of the Beneficent Congregational Church, located across the street from Beneficent House, on Weybosset Street.

But Beneficent House is not for sale. The church, which is a separate entity but maintains control of Beneficent House, is still dedicated to its mission of providing below-market priced housing for “low to moderate income persons of diverse backgrounds,” Hope said. Residents include working people, seniors and families with children.

On Sunday, Sept. 17, the Board of Governors will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Beneficent House. A worship service at 10 a.m. will be followed by a luncheon and an historical exhibit.

Beneficent House was the product of a partnership between the federal government and Beneficent Congregational Church. The apartment house was located on the site of the former Metropolitan Theatre and was designed by Paul Rudolph, a highly regarded architect from New Haven, Conn. It opened its doors in August 1967.

According to Jasmin Chapron, the onsite property manager, monthly rental prices for new people moving into Beneficent House range from $630 to $975 for studios, $760 to $1150 for one-bedroom apartments, and $990 to $1,470 for two-bedroom apartments. Longtime tenants with limited incomes are charged less, as are the handful of Section 8 tenants living at Beneficent House.

The rents include all utilities, except for cable and telephone service, and all the units have been refurbished with new kitchens. The building also provides parking for tenants, a fitness room, and a community room with a kitchen. All the apartments also have air conditioning.

To foster a sense of community, events including an annual holiday party are held, Chapron said. A recent summer movie night on the lawn was popular with residents, she said.

Farnum and Hope said it’s a challenge to keep rents low and also meet the costs of taxes, property upkeep and maintenance. For the first few years, the church tried to manage the property itself, but later decided it was better to hire a professional property management company. Also, when the Beneficent House first opened, there were several commercial establishments on the ground floor, including a dentist, a deli, and a hair salon, but without nearby parking, the businesses found the location difficult. These spaces were later turned into an expanded management office and common spaces, including the exercise room.

But with rents still climbing in Providence’s tight rental market, Beneficent House provides an affordable alternative.

Rhode Island Housing reported that average rent prices in Rhode Island in 2016 were $855 for studios, $986 for one-bedroom apartments, $1,288 for two-bedroom apartments and $1,628 for three-bedroom units, all representing “historic highs” since the agency began its survey in 2002. These prices are adjusted for utility costs.

cdunn@providencejournal.com/

(401) 277-7913

On Twitter @ChristineMDunn

Courtesy of Providence Journal

Published in Local Interest Affected cities: Providence