CUMBERLAND — Home is where the heart is, not to mention the wallet.
On Wednesday morning, several dignitaries — including U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, Mayor Daniel McKee, Rhode Island Housing Executive Director Richard Godfrey and Cumberland Housing Authority Board of Commissioners Chair Eugene McMahon – attended an open house celebrating the two new, affordable housing units at 26 Carpenter St.
All expressed delight with the camaraderie and partnerships it took to construct the pair of three-bedroom apartments, one on top of the other.
It's definitely hard to find, as it's not located on Carpenter Street but instead the corner of Brailey and Prospect streets. Still, the units are sure to provide a bright, airy and neighborhood feel to those who want to reside there.
“Right now, the housing system in the United States is broken; people can't get the money to buy, build or rent homes,” stated Godfrey. “In Rhode Island, about one in 10 people are employed in the construction or housing business. They include contractors, real estate agents, lawyers, lenders, bankers, etc.
“But until we get the housing sector healed, the overall economy can't get better,” he added. “We need to get good, affordable homes for folks. It's getting tougher and tougher for people to buy or rent homes; even rent prices have skyrocketed. You know, Rhode Island is even less affordable than sections of California, and that's because residents here make less.
“If you take into consideration the ratio of what housing costs and what people make, this is one of the costliest places nationwide to live; it shouldn't be that way.”
Lee Lamothe, Cumberland Housing Authority Executive Director, revealed the project was completed at a cost of approximately $400,000.
“It consists of two three-bedroom units, and the original homes – there were two on the lot – were purchased with Neighborhood Stablilization Plan funds, (which were) created to purchase foreclosed homes in 2009, but the two homes couldn't be salvaged,” she noted.
With the help of Building Homes Rhode Island grants and HOME funds, both distributed by Rhode Island Housing, and a Community Development Block Grant from the town, the original structures were razed, and a new, efficient two-family home was built.
“This home was a joint effort between Rhode Island Housing, the town of Cumberland, REACH (Realty Endeavors for Affordable Community Housing) and the Cumberland Housing Authority,” Lamothe explained. “REACH (based in Central Falls) acted as the consultant/contractor on the project; the CHA will own and manage this property, which was created for families who are at or below 50 percent of the Ocean State's median income.”
She also indicated that median income is $37,000 for a family of four, and the first-floor unit has been rented as of Jan. 1 to a mother who owns her own business in Providence. There she will live with and care for her three young daughters.
The price tag: $950 per month.
The second-floor apartment is open, and Lamothe stated she currently is accepting applications.
“The problem is finding a family who qualifies under the income limit but can afford the $950 a month in rent,” she said. “They're few and far between.”
She mentioned the house had been turned over to the Cumberland Housing Authority last February, and CHA received zoning approval in May. It also gleaned the building permit in July.
“We were six months in construction mode, four months in regulatory matters and a year-and-a-half in getting the funding to build it, so it's been a long haul,” she offered. “Still, this is well worth the wait … I'm very proud this has been completed, and that it did so because of REACH, Rhode Island Housing and the town. It wasn't so much our housing authority, as I was merely the facilitator.
“I'd say from a re-development of the Valley Falls area of Cumberland, this is was very much needed. We had to re-do the septic system, but this is going to be a special place for a pair of families.”
Stated Cicilline: “Congratulations to all for your vision and good work. This is an example of the partnership between local, state and federal governments. This embraces the quality of life around this neighborhood. I wish I could bring my colleagues on the other side to Cumberland so they can see what these funds can do.”
McKee mentioned he grew up near this neighborhood, and had friends who used to live nearby.
“In a lot of ways, we need to get younger, more diverse and more educated people in town … To live in a great place, you must have a commitment to the area and to the people,” he said. “All of these projects are great, but we have to find a way to weave these projects into open space initiatives.”
During his speech, Godfrey claimed the state and its municipalities need good affordable homes now more than ever before.
“We've seen what the recession, what this economy, has had on our state over the last couple of years,” he noted. “We've lost over 7,000 homes to foreclosure. In addition, the Rhode Island population is changing, as people are moving out of state at a dramatic rate.
“The average household size has gone from 2.7 people to 2.3, and that would require the availability of another 1,000 homes,” he continued. “Many economists around the country are saying we can't make the economy better until we provide more local, affordable homes. That's why projects such as these are so important.”
For more information, or to request an application for the second-floor unit, call Lamothe at (401) 334-2678, or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org .