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Providence Journal: New life for vacant buildings in Olneyville

By Christine Dunn

Journal Staff Writer

Saturday, December 02, 2017

PROVIDENCE – Foreclosed and abandoned properties that had become magnets for criminal activity in Olneyville were targeted for inclusion in Amherst Gardens, ONE Neighborhood Builders’ newest development.

ONB purchased 13 distressed properties for Amherst Gardens, and they were “strategically selected” for their nuisance effect, high visibility, proximity to existing ONB properties, and the positive impact their improvement would have on surrounding homes, according to Executive Director Jennifer Hawkins. Eight buildings had to be demolished and replaced with new homes; the others were renovated.

The result of the $10.4-million development is 36 new affordable apartments and 2 new commercial spaces in the Amherst Street neighborhood.

Hawkins joked that her predecessors, including former executive directors Frank Shea and Michael DeVos, “were really good at buying crummy properties.”

City officials at Friday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony included Mayor Jorge Elorza, Policy Chief Col. Hugh T. Clements Jr. and Police Cmdr. Thomas Verdi, and acting City Council President Sabina Matos and City Councilman Michael Correia, who represent the Olneyville neighborhood.

Housing leaders including Nancy Smith Greer from HUD, Barbara Fields, executive director of Rhode Island Housing, Michael Tondra from the state’s Office of Housing and Community Development, Brenda Clement from HousingWorks RI and Melina Lodge from the Housing Network were also in attendance.

“Welcome to Ward 15,” Matos said at the Friday morning event, held in the first-floor commercial space at 234 Manton Ave., one of the reclaimed properties. Affordable apartments have been built above the street-level storefront.

Matos said it’s been exciting to see revitalization in Olneyville, after “we have been through so many challenges.” Olneyville was disproportionately affected by the foreclosure crisis. Housing prices escalated rapidly during the housing boom, then crashed after 2008.

Elorza said that today, leaders of the city’s universities and hospitals are interested in investing in Olneyville.

“Before, people didn’t want to come to Olneyville,” Matos said. But “there are a lot of decent people who live in Olneyville and they all want a chance to live a decent life.”

“I ‘heart’ Olneyville,” said Jeanne Cola of LISC Rhode Island, a project partner. “It has a unique sense of belonging and place. It truly is on the rise.”

Fields also lauded the efforts to bring safe streets and good schools” to Olneyville, but added that she is “very worried” about the tax reform effort in Washington.

The possible elimination of tax credits that support public-private affordable housing investments could undermine the work of housing advocates, she said.

(401) 277-7913

On Twitter: @ChristineMDunn

Courtesy of Providence Journal

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