In Your Neighborhood

Life goes on, obladi, oblada

A wonderful night in the neighborhood as ONE Neighborhood Builders celebrates its 30th anniversary

Photo by Richard Asinof

Jennifer Hawkins, executive director of ONE Neighborhood Builders, during an affordable housing tour for state senators last fall.

By Richard Asinof
Posted 9/24/18
ONE Neighborhood Builders celebrated its 30th anniversary, with plans for an inspiring future and a new tiny homes pilot project.
How will the planned Olneyville Innovation District mesh with the ongoing efforts of ONE Neighborhood Builders to build a sustainable, healthy neighborhood, with a focus on affordable housing and health equity? What will it take to change the perception of the Olneyville neighborhoods? How will progressive legislators elected to the R.I. General Assembly change the status quo? How can Clinica Esperanza and ONE Neighborhood Builders find common ground around health equity and access to health care?
One of the questions raised by author Chris Hayes during his talk at Brown University about fear, racism, crime and violence was what seemed an inexplicable change: the decade of violence he had grown up in New York City with and its apparent dissipation the next decade. Why had that happened, he asked, saying he didn’t have an answer.
If Anna Aizer, an associate professor of Economics at Brown had been in the audience, she might have provided a potential answer: the elimination of leaded gasoline and improved childhood lead screening and lead paint housing enforcement codes.
As with lead, we are only just beginning to fathom the problems associated with toxins in our water and in plastics that are disrupting our bodies and our health. The research by Joseph Braun, an associate professor of Epidemiology at the School of Public Health at Brown, looking at the environmental determinants of children’s health, could offer a window into the health and racial disparities that plague our country.

PROVIDENCE – The joint was jumping on Friday night, Sept. 22, inside the Southside Cultural Center of Rhode Island at 393 Broad St., where ONE Neighborhood Builders, a community development corporation, was holding its 30th birthday bash, “30 Years To Become ONE: Celebrating our past, inspiring the future.”

Trying to catch up with Jennifer Hawkins, the executive director of ONE Neighborhood Builders, to do an short interview was much like being trapped inside a pinball game, as Hawkins bounced from one guest to another, and ConvergenceRI followed in her wake, constantly bumping into friends, acquaintances and colleagues, engaging in conversations. It was convergence in action.

There was Angela Ankoma, executive vice president at United Way of Rhode Island, with whom Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza was sharing photographs on his phone of his three-month-old son, Omar. It was going to be a big workday on Monday, when the president of United Way, Cortney Nicolato, began her first day on the job, Ankoma said.

There was Zachary Sherman, director of HealthSourceRI. ConvergenceRI shared a story about an acquaintance that had been suddenly terminated from his job this past summer, to be left with a $1,800-a-month family health insurance plan through COBRA. Thankfully, he had recently found a new job, but the stigma and shame had left the acquaintance unable to talk about what had happened. In the future, Sherman urged, please send those folks our way.

There were two recent participants from the 2018 Health Equity Summit, who had attended ConvergenceRI’s breakout session on “The Art of Storytelling,” and wanted to share how much they had enjoyed the workshop.

There were Miriam and Arthur Plitt, next to the “Small Builds, Big Futures” exhibit, where there were architectural models on display for a potential project of houses with a very small footprint, which was part of the DesignWeekRI event schedule.

There was Joe Garlick, executive director of NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley in Woonsocket, with whom ConvergenceRI collaborated back in 1994, which seems like a galaxy long ago and far away.

There was Peter Simon, a member of the Anniversary Host Committee for the event, a frequent contributor to ConvergenceRI, always a point of convergence.

There was Rochelle Lee, now a ready-to-work coordinator with the Pawtucket School Department, who had been a senior project manager with LISC RI when she and ConvergenceRI first worked together. Lee is a current member of the ONE Neighborhood Builders board of directors.

There were Carla De Stefano, executive director of SWAP, or Stop Wasting Abandoned Properties, and her husband, Richard Godfrey.

The newest state senator
When ConvergenceRI finally caught up with Hawkins, she again begged off an interview, saying that she could talk only after her speech.

Instead, ConvergenceRI had the opportunity to interview Sam Bell, the newly elected State Senator from Providence.

ConvergenceRI: What does this kind of neighborhood celebration represent to you?
One of the cool things about Olneyville is that there are a lot of groups, ONE Neighborhood Builders being the critical one, that have done a lot of the work that the government should be doing.

There has been a real investment in affordable housing, there has been a real investment in community health.

The reality is, it shouldn’t have to be the private sector that does this. We should live in a state where the public sector steps up to provide affordable housing. We should live in a state where the investments do not need to come from the outside.

And, that’s great that there is this private investment. But there are neighborhoods where this kind of work doesn’t exist, and they are being left behind. And, Olneyville needs much more than what the private sector can provide on its own, which is why we need really bold investments from the public sector in affordable housing and in community health – community health that is about increasing population health not just to meet metrics goals but actually to increase the health of the population.

Strategic plan
In the back of the strategic plan for 2018-2020 for ONE Neighborhood Builders, distributed to all the attendees in a small gift package, was a section on key metrics achieved by the community development corporation.

Under sustainable properties, ONE Neighborhood Builders had a 95 percent occupancy rate, a 90 percent collection rate, and less than 10 percent annual turnover. There were 8 new homes for sale, and 50 new apartments in pre-development. And, there had been more than 1,000 residents had attended Olneyville collaborative events, including financial well-being courses and homebuyer education classes.

Tiny homes
A major new initiative planned for the future is the pilot development of a “tiny home” product suitable for what is known as “small infill lots,” the design for which was featured in the “Small Builds, Big Futures” exhibit at the birthday bash.

In her speech, Hawkins announced that a $125,000 challenge grant had been received to help spark the project. In addition to developing such tiny homes, there was the opportunity to perhaps manufacture the homes in a facility in Olneyville.

One-minute interview
Finally, Hawkins agreed to a one-minute interview, following her talk.

ConvergenceRI: Why is this important?
We’re celebrating 30 years. As much as we can build momentum, we can solve the housing crisis, and we don’t have to wait [for another 30 years], that will be great.

ConvergenceRI: How much was the contribution for the tiny homes pilot you announced from the stage?
It is a pledge grant of $125,000. We’re looking for donors to match, for the “Small Homes, Big Futures” project.

ConvergenceRI: If I wanted to buy such a home, how much would it cost?
Between $80,000 and $100,000. It is affordable for someone who makes between $35,000 and $50,000 a year.

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