PAWTUCKET â€” Reyes Contreras was happy to show off his spacious, two-bedroom apartment on the corner of Dexter and Barton Street to local officials and media representatives. Large windows that let in natural light, gleaming wood floors, and a roomy, open kitchen/dining/living room area were just some of the stylish features of the modern unit. â€śIt's great. I love it,â€ť exuded Contreras, who shares the apartment with his wife and mother-in-law. â€śIt's clean, new, quiet, and everything is convenient.â€ť
Contreras is just one of several dozen happy tenants who have recently moved into the 33 new rental homes in the 4,000-square-foot, brick and wood frame building at 185 Dexter St. known as Blackstone Valley Gateways. An official ribbon-cutting was held Monday morning for the project, which was spearheaded by Pawtucket Citizens Development Corporation (PCDC) and several partners, including Rhode Island Housing.
â€śThe development is one of the many great things happening in this community,â€ť said Nancy Whit, PCDC. â€śBy working closely with numerous local and state partners, we are able to make strategic investments in the health and well-being of Pawtucket's neighborhoods. PCDC is leading efforts to create neighborhood level economic opportunity and improve the quality of life for all residents of Pawtucket and Central Falls.â€ť
In addition to the 33 affordable housing units, commercial space located on the first floor of the building has been leased to the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island and Access Rhode Island. Whit said the addition of these service agencies will also help improve the quality of life for the people of the neighborhood.
Whit said that it took three years for the affordable housing project to come to fruition, and said funding was the result of â€śa lot of partnerships.â€ť Among the federal programs were tax credits allocated by Rhode Island Housing. Additional funding came from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD) HOME Investment Partnership Program, Neighborhood Stabilization Program, Rhode Island Housing Lead Funds and National Equity Fund.
Whit added that there are plans to add another 33 units of affordable housing through three apartment houses on nearby Cherry Street.
The state's investment included assistance from Building Homes Rhode Island, a housing bond approved by voters in 2006, and Neighborhood Opportunities Program, which is now funded by Rhode Island Housing.
A KeepSpace planning grant from Rhode Island Housing was also provided to PCDC.
Pawtucket/Central Falls has been designated as a KeepSpace Community, where neighbors meet, people work and children play. Whit also noted that the Blackstone Valley Gateways project was the first ribbon-cutting in the community since it has been associated with KeepSpace.
Richard Godfrey Executive Director of Rhode Island Housing, chose the event to announce a Comprehensive Community Design Plan to help guide future growth, revitalization, preservation, community and economic development. The goal of KeepSpace, Godfrey noted, is to establish homes where residents have access to human and social services, commercial activities, retail shops and public transportation.
Pawtucket Mayor Donald Grebien said this project and others like it which are on the horizon are important to the continued improvement of the Barton Street neighborhood, which has changed dramatically in the past few years thanks to a concerted effort to reduce crime, drug activity and prostitution.
The mayor thanked all of the state and federal agencies involved, and said that his administration would be looking â€śfor a continued partnership as we move other neighborhoods forward.â€ť
Robert Vanderslice, Healthy Environment Team Leader for the Rhode Island Department of Health and a KeepSpace Advisory Committee member, noted that efforts such as Project RENEW, which has taken a comprehensive and non-criminal approach to those involved in prostitution and drugs, has made great strides in improving the neighborhood around the Pawtucket/Central Falls line.
Vanderslice also noted that, thanks to better housing, the number of cases involving children with lead poisoning has dropped from 325 in 1995 to 48 in 2007 and 22 according to recent data. He also said a recent study links a rise in asthma and a spike in obesity to the housing and lifestyles typically found in low income neighborhoods. â€śPeople are much more likely to make healthy choices in their lives when they live in an environment that supports a healthy lifestyle,â€ť Vanderslice said.
Other speakers included Noah Dorius, Senior Analyst for the Providence Field Office of HUD; Tony Lyons, Vice President and Acquisition Regional Manager, National Equity Fund Inc., and Michael Tondra, Chief/Executive Director, Office of Housing and Community Development, Housing Resources Commission.