Innovation Ecosystem

Success at Sankofa

Ribbon-cutting at new affordable housing development as part of the creation of an urban farming hub celebrates place making

Photo by Richard Asinof

Sharon Conard-Wells of West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation cuts the ribbon to celebration the completion of a new 50 units of affordable housing, surrounded by supporters, investors and officials.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 8/29/16
The success of the Sankofa Initiative to build a community that links affordable housing with access to freshly grown food is a model that can be replicated across Rhode Island’s urban communities, reclaiming abandoned properties and mill buildings and transforming them into a haven of safe, affordable neighborhoods.
How can the success of Sankofa become an integral part of economic development strategy in Rhode Island by making investments in place making and community development, and not just companies and commercial real estate? Will the School of Public Health at Brown University and its new academic research partner, the R.I. Department of Health, undertake research studies that track the health outcomes of Sankofa’s efforts to build a hub of urban agriculture? Is there an opportunity to expand the concept of a Neighborhood Health Station to serve the residents of the West End, particularly with the location of a new WIC center that will open this fall as part of the Sankofa development?
One of the consistent messages espoused by almost every speaker at the Sankofa ribbon-cutting was the importance of mobilizing people to vote in favor of Question 7, a $50 million bond in support of affordable housing, on the November ballot.
As much as the state is trying to woo new companies and enterprises to Rhode Island, the bigger question is where are the new workers going to live? And, how can existing residents not be displaced? A recent study found that it would require some 34,610 new units of housing to be constructed over the next 10 years – about 25,000 rental units and 9,000 owner units – just to keep up with current demand. Prosperity begins at the front door of your own home.

PROVIDENCE – It was a beautiful hot summer morning as city officials and neighborhood residents came together to celebrate an important community victory in the West End: a ribbon cutting to hail the completion of a vibrant new development of 50 affordable apartments, an integral part of the Sankofa Initiative led by West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation.

The development, spread out over nine vacant infill lots located between Elmwood Avenue and Dexter Street, consists of rental homes in 11 buildings, including one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments.

It features the concept of an urban agricultural center as part of its design, including a new greenhouse funded through Rhode Island Housing, to support efforts to improve the community residents’ access to fresh food from a network of Sankofa growers.

The financing for the $13.6 million project was braided together from a number of sources, including: federal housing tax credits, private equity investments, and a construction loan and permanent first mortgage from Rhode Island Housing.

With Sharon Conard-Wells, the executive director of West Elmwood Housing, serving as emcee, a parade of notables offered their praise and blessings.

They included: Rep. David Cicilline; Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza; Sen. Juan Pichardo; Rep. Grace Diaz; Councilwoman Mary Kay Harris; Barbara Fields, executive director of R.I. Housing; Robert Charest, the senior vice president at Boston Financial Investment Management; Joan Straussman, interim regional vice president for the Northeast Region of NeighborWorks America; Angela Ankoma, chief of the Office of Minority Health at the R.I. Department of Health; and Mary Fasano, program officer at the R.I. Local Initiatives Support Corporation.

In addition, “unsung” hero awards were presented to community residents Glenda Ferguson and Sean Selleck.

Fully enrolled
For all the words during the 45-minute speaking program, delivered with the spirit of toasts at a family gathering, it was the closing words of Conard-Wells that best summed up the success of the project: there had been some 1,049 applications for the 50 apartments, and the 50 newly constructed affordable apartments were now fully enrolled.

Conard-Wells also said that after reviewing the more than 1,000 applications, she was preparing to launch a financial literacy effort to help residents overcome problems with credit, a problem identified in many of the applications.

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