Crossroads R.I., state officials cut ribbon on new apartments for homeless families

WARWICK – A former convent building for St. Benedict Church on Beach Avenue has formally been converted into new apartments for families experiencing homelessness.

Additionally, state elected and nonprofit housing officials on Thursday marked the new apartments as an opportunity for communities to create new housing opportunities via adaptive reuse.

Crossroads Rhode Island, along with House Speaker K. Joseph Shekarchi, D-Warwick; R.I. Housing Secretary Stefan Pryor; and Mayor Frank Picozzi cut the ribbon on four new apartments on the former Rhode Island Family Shelter’s first floor. The $1.6 million project to turn the building, which was taken over by Crossroads in 2018 at the state’s request, was funded through Building Homes Rhode Island bond funds from the R.I. Housing and Mortgage Finance Corp., community development block grants from the city and $200,000 from the Bezos Day One Families Fund.

Crossroads says the building now houses two three-bedroom apartments, one two-bedroom apartment and one single-bedroom apartment. Construction began in late February 2022, with Pariseault Builders Inc. of Cranston serving as the general contractor and Virginia Branch of Branch Architects in Providence as the project’s architect, Crossroads said. The project also increases the number of units in the Beach Avenue apartment building to 11, the housing nonprofit said.

- Advertisement -

“Completing the Beach Avenue apartments is a small step toward our goal of ending homelessness, and a life-changing event for the families who will live here. It’s critical that we use the completion of this project as a motivator to turn more underused properties into housing throughout Rhode Island,” Crossroads President Michelle Wilcox said in a statement.

Crossroads CEO Karen A. Santilli told Providence Business News last year this project should be an example of how other cities and towns across Rhode Island should get creative and turn vacant properties into opportunities for affordable housing. She said at the time such creativity is needed in order for Rhode Island to build approximately 3,000 apartments in order to make a significant dent in the affordable housing crisis.

Santilli in a statement Thursday reiterated that point, noting Rhode Island’s housing focus requires “big thinking and courageous leadership.” Such thinking and leadership were main factors in the Beach Avenue project becoming a reality, she said.

“We know that housing is the only solution for homelessness and we will stay laser-focused on the work needed to create and develop more housing for as long as we need to. The opening of the Beach Avenue Apartments will provide families with the security and safety of a permanent home,” Santilli said.

Carol Ventura, CEO and executive director of R.I. Housing, agreed, saying the state must explore and secure resources “to buy, renovate and build more developments like this.”

Crossroads is also currently developing the new five-story, 176-unit affordable housing apartment building on Summer Street in Providence, which the City Plan Commission approved plans for last year, Crossroads spokesperson Mike Raia said Thursday. With that, it will allow apartments in the existing Travelers Aid Housing “tower” property at 160 Broad St. to be converted from single-resident occupancy to full proper apartments.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.