PAWTUCKET â€” As 60-something parents of a 24-year-old daughter with severe developmental disabilities, Richard Godfrey said that he and his wife worry a lot about her future. He noted that while the young woman, who needs near-constant care, is currently in a good day care situation, she will one day be alone.
That's why Godfrey, executive director of Rhode Island Housing, said he was feeling especially celebratory about Friday's groundbreaking for Belmont Commons, a 10-unit housing development for individuals and families with disabilities located at 115 Manton St. He was one of a group of state and local community leaders who were all smiles about the long-awaited arrival of what the Arc of Blackstone Valley calls its Manton Street Initiative.
Belmont Commons is being developed by the Blackstone Valley Development Corporation, the real estate development branch of the Arc of Blackstone Valley. Funded primarily through the HUD Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities Program, the development features five one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. The units will be offered to individuals with intellectual and development disabilities and physical challenges in low-income households.
According to Rhode Island Housing, the development has been carefully designed with a program of supportive service to provide maximum benefit to the residents. The homes have been designed to be completely handicap accessible, with features that include blinking doorbells which can be activated to aid the hearing impaired, optional automatic doors that can be opened remotely from anywhere in the home and wheelchair-height front door peepholes.
U.S. Sen Sheldon Whitehouse said â€śIt's important for individuals with disabilities to have access to safe and affordable housing. The new units at Belmont Commons will give these Rhode Islanders a place to call home, and provide vital services to help them live more independently.â€ť Referring to himself along with his fellow congressmen from Rhode Island, he said, â€śWe get how a family who has a loved one with a disability needs support.â€ť
Whitehouse and Godfrey also spoke of their shared concern over the lack of support in the current political arena for federal funding that allows for projects such as this one that aid the poor and the disabled.
Mayor Donald Grebien stated, â€śWith the growing need for affordable housing for persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, the current supply in the city of Pawtucket is severely inadequate. Ten additional units of supportive, accessible housing directly address the housing needs and goals stated in the city and state's comprehensive plan.â€ť
Grebien noted that the project reflects government â€śat its bestâ€ť with the goal of providing more housing, but also â€śgovernment at its worstâ€ť in the way of the lengthy and frustrating delays that occurred. He added, however, that being able to finally break ground on such a project demonstrates â€śhow important it is to work in partnership.â€ť
Jack Padien, CEO of the Arc of Blackstone Valley, called the groundbreaking ceremony â€śa very special day for ARCâ€ť because it brought to fruition an idea that came about over six years ago. He thanked all of the many city officials who were part of the process, including Grebien and former Mayor James Doyle, City Councilors Thomas Hodge, Christopher O'Neill and Albert Vitali, and the city's Planning and Zoning Departments. He also gave thanks to Whitehouse, along with Congressmen Jack Reed, James Langevin and David Cicilline, and state Rep. Roberto DaSilva, for their help in procuring funding for the project, along with local banking and housing officials and construction firms that are involved.
Padien noted that among the many hurdles was convincing neighbors who were initially wary of the concept. He said that as the Arc was able to develop its program and provided more information through community meetings, â€śpeople start to see that it's not such a bad idea.â€ť He added that being able to begin construction on the first of the two planned housing complexes â€śis a lifelong dreamâ€ť and said Belmont Commons is the first of maybe four or five other such projects that are in the works for the Arc, including a housing complex for disabled veterans.
Other speakers included Craig Stenning, director of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals; Nancy Smith Greer, Providence Field Office Director, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Jeanne Cola, chairman of the Office of Housing and Community Development/Housing Resources Commission and executive director, Rhode Island LISC.
Councilor Thomas Hodge, who is on the board of directors for the Arc, said he was particularly pleased to see the long journey toward the housing development come to an end and construction finally getting underway. He said the organization's one-story building on Manton Street will be razed to make room for the first phase of apartment units. Construction will begin on a second unit in the fall. The Arc has another building located nearby on Narragansett Park Drive that offers programs and services as well as other sites in the city that it operates.
Belmont Commons was designed by architects Saccoccio & Associates, Inc., in Cranston and is being built by New England Construction.