News & Event
By James Merolla
Haunts for the Homeless Director Jef Benson presents the charity’s first donation check to WARM Center homeless shelter’s Executive Director Russ Partridge.Jef Benson was once a homeless addict who lost everything. He lived in a van in a used car lot, and in a shed behind a friend’s house in the middle of winter.
“I lost my marriage, my home, my belongings, dignity, and self-respect,” he said. “I lost friends and even family members. Then, in 2006, I got clean. I was in Pennsylvania in 2010 and was hired in Rhode Island to help design a haunt. I ended up staying here and we started ‘Haunts for the Homeless.’”
Haunts for the Homeless comes to Fort Adams State Park in the 14th annual Fortress of Nightmares later month with the new “Spirits Rising” haunt, which is currently under construction. The build comes via Mohegan Sun casino, where Benson works in the sports and entertainment division.
“Fort Adams and [creative director] Dave Prata welcomed us with open arms,” he said. “They already have an established attraction, Fortress of Nightmares, and we will be adding our haunt to that. They have been so helpful in the setup and building of the haunt, adding us to their marketing, etc. I’m really looking forward to us helping each other. Our haunt brings a new addition to what they have, while they are more than helping us by giving Spirits Rising a home and a chance to help those in need.”
Haunts for the Homeless was established in 2013, but it became stagnant. “We raised some money here and there and donated to a local shelter, but it wasn’t going anywhere,” Benson said. “We wanted to take the charity in a new direction. This year, we’ve changed board members, I became the director and we are reestablishing [ourselves].
“We wanted to have a haunted house that brings awareness to the homeless. Other haunts give to charities, but Spirits Rising was built specifically for a charitable cause. We did a GoFundMe campaign to raise the money for the haunted house and then, basically from out of the blue, we ended up acquiring a haunted house from Mohegan Sun Casino’s Special Events department,” he said. “We’re still doing a GoFundMe campaign to fill in the gaps of everything that we didn’t get from the casino, such as props and maybe additions to the house.”
To donate, visit Fortress of Nightmares or go to gofundme.com/spirits-rising-haunted-house.
Courtesy of Newport This Week
A recently released housing report for Rhode Island shows that Newport is second only to Woonsocket in the percentage of residents who are classified as low- or moderate-income.
According to the report by Rhode Island Housing, a privately funded public purpose corporation created by the General Assembly in 1973, in 2016 nearly 15.5 percent of all housing units in Newport were dedicated to low- or moderate-income individuals, slightly lower than Woonsocket’s 15.90 percent. In contrast, Middletown was at 5.4 percent, Jamestown at 4.39 percent and Portsmouth at 2.83 percent.
Newport City Councilwoman Kate Leonard has often spoken out on the issue of housing and the need for affordable units to be spread across the entire state. When asked about the information in the Rhode Island Housing report she said, "I question their numbers, I have been told that Newport has the highest amount of affordable housing in Rhode Island.”
Rhode Island dictates that 10 percent of municipal housing stock be for those in low- or moderate-income brackets. As of 2016, Newport was at 17 percent. The majority of those units are in Newport Heights, Bayside Village, Broadway West,
Festival Field, Rolling Green Village, and Park Holm, where units are being built as replacement housing for those units demolished due to age and to decrease the density of the neighborhood.
The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) defines low-income households as those whose income does not exceed 80 percent of the median income for the area, with adjustments for smaller or larger families. HUD defines moderate-income households as those whose incomes are between 81 percent and 95 percent of the median income for the area.
A separate report released by HousingWorksRI at Roger Williams University presents a more in-depth survey of area housing statistics and trends. According to the report, 41 percent of Newport residents own their home, while 59 percent rent. In Middletown, the percentage of homeowners versus renters is 53-47. Both communities fall short of the statewide average of 60 percent ownership versus 40 percent renters. Even at 60 percent, Rhode Island has the lowest rate of homeownership in New England, and ranks 46th nationally.
The 2017 Housing Fact Book report, by HousingWorksRI, serves as a clearinghouse of information about housing affordability in Rhode Island, connecting that information with what residents have on economic development, education, and health.
The book offers a number of facts on housing ownership and rental. For example, 58 percent of the housing inventory in Newport is multifamily, compared to 36 percent in Middletown. The state average is 44 percent. Middletown exceeds the state average of 56 percent in the number of single-family homes, at 64 percent, with Newport at 42 percent.
Across the state, HousingWorksRI reports that Central Falls and Providence (excluding the East Side of the city) are the only two municipalities where households with income under $50,000 can find affordable housing; housing is considered affordable when a household spends 30 percent or less of its income on housing costs. In Newport, where the average rent of a two-bedroom apartment or home is $1,508, a household would need an annual income of $60,320 to meet the affordability threshold. In Middletown, where the average rent is $1,407, a household would need an annual income of $56,280.
The median single-family home price in Newport is $446,500, which translates to an annual household income of $113,419 to be affordable, while in Middletown the median price is $352,500, with $95,815 being the threshold of annual household income.
With discussions ongoing about attracting new businesses to land that will be available for development after the Pell Bridge realignment is complete, along with what some see as the difficulty in getting on and off Aquidneck Island, housing will continue to be a major influencing factor for new businesses, but perhaps for education as well. Leonard said, “we have 140 affordable units under construction in Park Holm, and I have concerns what additional impact that will have on our schools.”
– Contributions by B. Udoma
Courtesy of Newport This Week
By Christopher Allen
Data reporting that Middletown trails only Providence in the number of students who are classified as “homeless” in Rhode Island was a principal topic at the May 17 Middletown School Committee meeting.
The data, which was disseminated by Rhode Island Kids Count, a child advocacy organization founded in 1994, numbered the amount of homeless Middletown students at 115. But Vice-Superintendent Linda Savastano disputed that number.
“We upload our data every single day,” she said. “Most days, when I pull [data], I’m not seeing a number [as high as 115].”
She said that the number is usually less than 100, which includes students in transition or those who were only in the district for a short period.
Earlier this year, Newport This Week reported a spike in reported homeless students in Newport schools (See “Newport Schools See Spike in Homelessness,” NTW, Jan. 4, 2018). The most recent Kids Count data ranked Newport fifth, after Providence, Middletown, Warwick and Woonsocket.
The committee reported to the council that the current number is 98, in Middletown, who are “identified as homeless or in foster care.” However, according to an email from Kids Count Communications Manager Katherine Chu, their compiled data “no longer includes children in foster care.” These students, under the new Department of Education guidelines, are now listed in a separate category.
“The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has provisions to protect and support school stability and success of students in foster care,” wrote Chu.
In 2016, the law was amended by Congress, removing “children awaiting foster care” from the definition of “homeless children and youths.”
A majority of these students, Savastano said, are categorized as “doubled-up,” meaning they are living or staying with extended family or friends, adding that because of the transitory state of many students, the number that is reported to the Rhode Island Department of Education tends to fluctuate.
Reporting guidelines changed since the transition from No Child Left Behind, a 2002 law that increased federal oversight of education, to ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) signed in to law in 2015.
“There are very specific defined categories that [Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE)] asks us to report,” Savastano said.
Committee Vice-Chair Theresa Spengler added that although not counted by the state as homeless, children in foster care should be considered in the conversation. “I think it’s important to explain that there are children in foster care. And they do have the right to be educated… Hopefully, it’s a temporary situation, but it may not be. It may be permanent.”
Federal money received as part of the McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth Act is an important funding source to help the district's population of homeless students, Savastano said, and that because about half of these students are identified as needing special education, state funding according to the current formula is increased in kind.
The federal McKinney-Vento law, passed in 1987, defines homeless children as “those who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.” Examples beside being doubled-up include children residing in motels, trailers or temporary shelters.
Reached by phone, RIDE Communications Officer, Megan Geoghegan, said Middletown is one of five districts that receive grants to assist in servicing their homeless students, along with Newport, North Kingston, Warwick and Woonsocket. “The numbers can fluctuate day to day,” she said. “Middletown is probably on the higher side because of the shelter.”
McKinney-Vento stipulates that children in temporary housing situations hold the right to attend school either in their home district or in the district they are currently residing in. So, a Middletown student who is living outside of the district still can commute back to Middletown if so chosen.
“Often the advocate wants to keep them here even if they are in another town…they want to keep them in their home school,” Savastano said.
The logistics and cost of moving students transitioning from a district or traveling to their home district can also pose a challenge. According to Geoghegan, DCYF (Department of Child and Family Services) does its best to provide transportation when possible. “But that is not a long-term solution,” she said.
“There are a lot of different categories that people don’t normally think of as homeless,” committee chair Kellie Simeone said. “But that being said, it’s still a bit surprising that we would have the second highest.”
Savastano said that the district will continue to search and apply for every possible federal, state and local grant. The district was awarded a McKinney-Vento Grant of $49,714 during the 2017-2018 school year.
The next school committee meeting is scheduled for June 21.
In other matters
.The committee shared a document containing answers to questions from the Town Council following their joint session on April 28 to discuss the upcoming budget adoption for fiscal year 2018-2019.
The following actions were approved:
.A director of finance policy revision
.Bids for Aquidneck and Forest Avenue shingle roof projects
.Procurement of electricity and natural gas from Direct Energy
.A reduction in force of 12 teachers
By Matt Sheley | Staff Writer, April 6, 2018
NEWPORT, R.I. — Aquidneck Island is an expensive place to live — on that most people can agree. But what to do about it?
Members of the local legislative delegation told a crowd of about 100 people Thursday morning at the local Community College of Rhode Island campus they’re more than aware of the reality — and more needs to be done to help make Newport County affordable.
They agreed it’s not an easy issue to tackle, especially since the area is such a desirable place to live, and finding solutions will require creativity.
The discussion came up during the third annual Newport County Legislative Forum, sponsored by the Aquidneck Island Planning Commission in partnership with The Newport Daily News and CCRI.
“It’s such an important discussion,” said Sen. Dawn Euer, D-Newport. “There’s nothing more fundamental to a family than being able to go home and have a roof over your head at night.”
“One of the things that I’ve been thinking about is I would love to see a partnership between members of the assembly delegation and the City Council leadership in Newport,” said Rep. Lauren Carson, D-Newport. “I think that solutions are state-based and municipally based and I would encourage a task force or a conversation around a real diagnosis of what the problems are and some real brainstorming about how the state and municipalities can work better.”
According to statistics in the 2017 Housing Fact Book put out by HousingWorksRI, homebuyers need to make at least $113,419 annually to buy a median-priced home in Newport. The figures were $135,731 in Jamestown, $95,815 in Middletown, $95,670 in Portsmouth and $70,231 in Tiverton.
To “affordably” rent a two-bedroom apartment in Newport, people need to bring in $60,320, compared to $66,040 in Jamestown, $56,280 in Middletown, $68,560 in Portsmouth and $57,280 in Tiverton.
The report shows that a big part of the problem is that except for Newport, none of the communities in Newport County meet the 10 percent goal for low- or moderate-income housing. HousingWorksRI statistics show that 15.3 percent of housing in Newport meets that criterion, but only 4.4 percent in Jamestown, 5.4 percent in Middletown, 2.8 percent in Portsmouth and 5.1 percent in Tiverton.
Rep. Kenneth Mendonca, R-Portsmouth, agreed something has to be done or Newport County will continue to lose population. Among the ideas he suggested was getting creative with zoning and loosening density rules for suitable properties. He also suggested the town of Portsmouth look into the former Navy tank farm properties along Defense Highway for affordable housing.
“We live in an area that’s highly desirable, so you have a lot of short-term rentals, which drives up the costs and the price of homes, which makes it very difficult,” Mendonca said. “We know we’re an aging population, that it’s important that we retain our youth or that we attract our youth into our communities. As the prices drive up, it makes it harder for them to have a starter home here on the island.”
Legislators participating in the forum were Sen. Louis DiPalma, D-Middletown; Rep. James Seveney, D-Portsmouth; Euer; Carson; Rep. Deborah Ruggiero, D-Jamestown; and Mendonca.
Moderator Neil Steinberg of the Rhode Island Foundation said schedule conflicts prevented Reps. Marvin Abney, D-Newport; Dennis Canario, D-Portsmouth; Susan Donovan, D-Bristol; and Jay Edwards, D-Tiverton; and Sen. Walter Felag, D-Warren, from attending.
The group dug into several weighty issues, including ways to improve mass transportation and support for Gov. Gina Raimondo’s proposal to spend $250 million in bond money to improve school facilities.
During a question-and-answer session, the panel was asked questions about proposal to ban semiautomatic rifles, the opioid crisis, the Base Realignment and Closure Process for Naval Station Newport and other topics.
Ruggiero said she supports Raimondo’s school bond proposal. She said anyone who’s been through the schools knows most of them need more work than the host communities can afford.
“We have not passed, in the state of Rhode Island, a school construction bond in almost 30 years,” Ruggiero said. “Think about that. That’s like two generations of kids going through these schools and I say that because if you look at Massachusetts, they have passed seven school construction bonds in the past 10 years.”
DiPalma said he too supports the bond, but tweaks are needed. He said the way the reimbursement formula is done now, it hurts fiscally responsible communities like Middletown that are already working to fix their schools.
“I do support the bond. We need it …,” DiPalma said. “But before I can support it 100 percent, the amendment needs to be there so that the communities I represent can benefit like the rest of the communities across the state. We don’t want to penalize anybody.”
For Seveney, streamlining the work-certification process for military spouses is an often-overlooked item the state should make more of a priority.
In his time in the General Assembly, Seveney said, he’s heard from a number of constituents who’ve been unable to get back to work because they don’t have the proper certification in Rhode Island, even though they have active certifications in other states. A former Navy officer, Seveney said his own wife — a teacher — dealt with such a situation.
“She has a master’s degree in early childhood education from Virginia and it took her 18 months (after moving to Rhode Island) before she was qualified for a full-time teaching job in the state of Rhode Island,” Seveney said.
Courtesy of The Newport Daily News
By Sean Flynn | Staff writer
NEWPORT, R.I. — A developer based in the city is offering to purchase the former Cranston-Calvert School off Broadway and convert it into a 34-unit apartment complex that includes two-bedroom and one-bedroom apartments.
BCM Realty Partners LLC has offered the city the “gross sum” of $1 million for the property, City Manager Joseph J. Nicholson Jr. told the City Council Wednesday night.
“The pricing is in line with a fair market value appraisal that I commissioned to determine the range of value, as is,” he said.
A gross sales price was cited because hazardous waste remediation may be necessary at the school, to remove asbestos for example, and the city may provide a certain credit to the developer for that work, he said.
“We could have a lower net sales price,” he said.
* BACKGROUND: Three historic city buildings now on the selling block
Rehabilitation costs are extremely high, Nicholson said in response to concerns the sales price may be low.
The city is converting the former Sheffield School on Broadway into a business incubator center and the rehab costs there are about $185 a square foot, he said.
“This school conversion provides innovative housing space to attract young technology people to Newport to provide a ready technology-savvy workforce,” Nicholson wrote in a memorandum to the council about the Cranston-Calvert project. “While that may sound anecdotal, the idea is that we believe we can generate an economy for Newport that has at its core need housing availability.”
“We are trying to create a new economy in the north end,” Nicholson told the council members during discussion. “Part of being successful with that is to create affordable housing that will bring young people back to Newport.”
“A lot of young people I work with out at the base (Naval Station Newport), would love to live in a place like this,” said Councilwoman Jamie Bova, who is an engineer.
Census data shows that Newport has an aging population and the number of city residents is declining.
“We are facing significant population decline,” Nicholson said.
Rental costs per unit in the apartment building would be between $1,000 and $1,500 monthly.
Those rent prices are below rental costs for Section 8 housing, Councilwoman Kathryn Leonard said, referring to the federal subsidy program.
“We already have low-income housing,” she said.
There will be no subsidies attached to this project, stressed Council Vice Chairwoman Lynn Underwood Ceglie and Nicholson agreed with her.
The exterior facade would be retained, but the interior would be totally reconstructed, Nicholson said.
Amenities in the apartment building would include “in-unit laundry, on-site parking, gym or media center, shared space on roof if desired by neighbors, virtual doorman, dry cleaning pickup/delivery, common area wi-fi, intercom system, high-end fixtures for lighting on exterior ...,” Nicholson wrote in the memorandum.
The Cranston-Calvert School was vacated when the students were moved to the new Pell Elementary School in 2013. The Cranston School was built in 1876 and the Calvert School in 1887. The were connected after the Hurricane of 1938.
Beginning in 2014, Berkshire Hathaway has been marketing the city’s vacant school properties that include the Coggeshall and Triplett schools, also vacated in 2013.
“There were numerous showings of the properties with no offers to purchase forthcoming,” Nicholson said. “The schools are just sitting there and deteriorating.”
The Newport Project Development Company, which was formed by consultants hired by the city to identify economic development projects, brought this school development project to the city for review, he said.
“There is a companion deal for the Coggeshall School,” Nicholson said. However, that proposal needs to be worked on, he said.
Nicholson said he sent letters to abutters around Cranston-Calvert to notify them of the proposed sale.
“I’ve gotten a good response from neighbors around the school,” he said. “I will go to neighborhood meetings.”
Nicholson said he did not want to just bring a finished purchase-and-sales agreement to the council without discussion.
“I do not have a formal purchase and sale agreement as of yet,” Nicholson wrote in the memorandum. “It is in draft form and not ready for your consideration. I hope to present that shortly.”
“It will enhance the neighborhood and add to our tax base,” he said.
Courtesy of Newport Daily News
By Sean Flynn | Staff writer
Nov 24, 2017
NEWPORT — About 150 people from all walks of life with a range of experiences gathered Thursday afternoon at the Seamen’s Church Institute for a Thanksgiving dinner that is an annual celebration of community.
Hugo Wallgren of Newport, a retired chief financial officer, and Zolton Phillips of New Bedford, Massachusetts, a retired real estate developer, sat at one of the long tables in the main room and regaled guests with stories and jokes.
“We met in a nursing home in Plymouth (Massachusetts),” said Wallgren, who is a cancer survivor. “We are the only two who walked out of there at the time and have been friends ever since.”
“We’re both retired and the kids are gone,” he said.
“We can’t even chase women anymore,” Phillips said.
They both came to the dinner for the first time three years ago and vowed to make it an annual event.
“It’s awesome,” Wallgren said. “The food is good and all the people are so nice. It’s the cross-section of humanity here that makes it so different. It’s beautiful.”
“It makes my Thanksgiving,” Phillips said. “That’s for sure.”
When so many banks folded during the bank crisis in 1989-1991, Phillips had millions of dollars in mortgages held by banks that were taken over by the federal government, he said. He was given the choice of paying off all the mortgages, which he wasn’t able to do, or having the government repossess all the properties that had lost value in the recession at the time. The process left him owing huge amounts of money after bankruptcy.
“I accept it for what it is,” Phillips said. “I don’t complain about it. Everyone here is so close. People are family.”
“I used to think this dinner was for the homeless, but now I see it is for everyone,” said Arthur Marshall of Newport, a retired restoration contractor who once did work for the late billionaire Doris Duke. He was at the dinner for the first time.
Spouses split up, children go their own ways, and the Seamen’s Thanksgiving dinner is a way to reconnect with old friends, participants explained with different stories.
Marshall was talking to Tom Stolarz of Jamestown, who has been doing residential masonry work for 35 years and first met Marshall on a construction job in 1983.
“I’m single, have my own business and don’t have any family in the area,” Stolarz said. “It’s really nice to drive over the bridge, come here and socialize with people.”
Marshall said extended families sometimes get together these days in restaurants and have their Thanksgiving dinners there, pay up and then they all leave for their separate homes.
“I miss the way I was brought up, when my mother made a big Thanksgiving dinner and all your cousins, aunts and uncles were there,” Marshall said.
Katy Grovell of Newport is 91 years old and has been a guest at the dinner for many years.
“I come here once a year and really like it,” she said. “It’s a great place to get out and socialize, and just be thankful. I’m a vegetarian, but all the food I receive here is very good.”
Kim Comfort is the head chef who put this feast together with many other volunteers.
She did it with 10 large turkeys, 50 pounds of potatoes, 30 pounds of mushrooms, 15 pounds each of celery, onions and carrots, and 10 pounds of green beans.
“We started slicing and dicing early Tuesday night and then assembled everything on Wednesday,” Comfort said.
One of the volunteers came into the kitchen at 6:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day to prepare the turkey stock, but the cooking really started at 8:30 a.m., Comfort said.
She has some deep roots in this tradition. Her family ran the former Music Hall Cafe across from Seamen’s Church Institute, in the building that later became the Rhode Island Quahog Co. restaurant and is now SpeakEasy Bar & Grill.
The Thanksgiving dinner tradition at Seamen’s Church Institute began in conjunction with the Music Hall Cafe, where the dinners were initially held, in 1995, Comfort said.
“My father, Lyn Comfort, started it with Patience Connerton,” she said. “At some point, the dinners came over here to the Seamen’s.”
Rebecca Northrup, the superintendent of Seamen’s Church Institute, said about 50 volunteers helped with some aspect of the dinner event, whether it was food preparation, setting up, cooking or serving the meals.
“We’ve noticed the number of guests going down each year,” she said. “About five years ago, we were seeing up to 300. Now, more community organizations offer Thanksgiving dinners and more Thanksgiving baskets are given out. It’s great.”
“What we offer that is so important is the sense of community at the dinner,” Northrup said. “People all talk to each other and there is a strong sense of belonging and good will.”
All the food is donated and cash donations pay for the use of china, silverware, linens and centerpieces, she said.
Besides the community tables in the main room, there were smaller tables set up in a room on the second floor.
Among the many volunteers on Thursday was Ruth Thumbtzen, a tireless volunteer for many organizations who taught for more than 40 years in Newport Public Schools and at Salve Regina University before retirement.
She was helping out with her two grandchildren who were here with family from Annapolis, Maryland: Eric Johnson, a senior at Virginia Tech, and his sister, Michaela Johnson, a freshman at Boston University.
“It’s a good feeling to make other people’s lives a little more tolerable,” she said. “Everyone here is having such a good time. I get more out of this than I give.”
Courtesy of The Newport Daily News
Posted May 8, 2018 at 10:23 AM
Updated May 9, 2018 at 9:44 AM
MIDDLETOWN – Police today identified Donald Boucher of Newport as the 56-year-old man who was killed after the motorbike he was driving collided head-on with a Jeep on Monday morning on Valley Road.
Boucher was an unsuccessful candidate for City Council in 2012 and a member of the Newport Zoning Board of Review from 2013-15. He was active in addressing the issues of homelessness as director of Housing First and homeless services at Riverwood Mental Health Services in Barrington and Providence.
He was taken from the accident scene outside Eye Health Vision Centers at 73 Valley Road to Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, where he died from his injuries, according to a police news release issued this morning.
A spokeswoman for the hospital confirmed today that Boucher was pronounced dead at the hospital on Monday.
His work to help the homeless will be one of his lasting legacies, said Mary Reynolds, former president of Newport County Citizens to End Homelessness.
“Don was the spark in the initiative, along with members of Channing Memorial Church, to bring Housing First to Newport,” Reynolds said today.
“It was the beginning of a change in how we address homelessness and working to do more about the problem,” she said.
The Housing First program in Newport placed dozens of homeless people in permanent housing over several years. In his oversight role, Boucher was the moderator of a speaking program and vigil in April 2016.
“What is maddening about this situation is that it is avoidable,” Boucher said at the time. “We know how to tackle these problems of homelessness, addiction and substance abuse. We know what to do, we have the models, yet we continue to lack the public and political will to demand that we implement and fund those models.”
“When he spoke, it was amazing,” Reynolds said. “He was really well-liked and highly regarded.”
Boucher and his wife, Esther Boucher, were the parents of three adult daughters.
“Yesterday was a very tragic day for myself and my family,” Esther Boucher wrote on her Facebook page. “We lost my beloved husband, Don, to a horrific motorcycle accident. It is a constant reminder ... We are not promised tomorrow.”
While he was running for City Council, Boucher cited his service as a pastor at local churches, his knowledge about the nonprofit sector and his familiarity with how health care works in the region.
During a discussion at an Alliance for a Livable Newport forum in October 2012, he defended 50 Washington Square, the former Navy YMCA building that now houses a homeless shelter, social services and affordable housing units.
He said at the time there are 93 affordable housing units in the building, as well as social services that have helped people when they needed it.
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