Five Questions With: Jennifer Hawkins

Jennifer Hawkins has been the executive director at One Neighborhood Builders since 2017, and she has been credited with helping to double the capacity of the organization, as it adds to a portfolio of 466 units of affordable homes in Greater Providence that it developed throughout its nearly 35-year history. Now, One Neighborhood Builders is now trying to decide how to spend $1 million through a community-led participatory budgeting initiative, recently kicking off the effort with an idea collection phase. The $1 million comes from both a $450,000 grant from the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and through private grant funding. The funding will go toward community assets and affordable housing in Elmhurst, Federal Hill, Hartford, Olneyville, Manton, Mount Pleasant, Valley, Silver Lake, and Smith Hill neighborhoods.

PBN: As ONE Neighborhood Builders launches a $1 million community-led participatory budgeting initiative, can you explain what kind of ideas are you seeking for from the public to help guide your investment in the nine neighborhoods served by this fund?

HAWKINS: The Nine Neighborhood Fund is truly a community-led initiative. People who live and work in the community have better insight into the communities needs than anyone else, so we’re really looking to them to determine what kinds of projects to invest in. Some of the ideas that have already come in have focused on the need for improvements to ball fields and investments that improve mobility in Central Providence. I’m excited to see some ideas come in that are completely new.

PBN: What has been some of the input you’ve received so far about how the funding should be invested in local developments and public resources?

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HAWKINS: We’re still gathering input. Early in the process, the community established the Nine Neighborhood Steering Committee which is made up completely of people who live, work or have a strong connection to the neighborhoods. They listened to community members at events hosted by partner organizations, held a town hall, and installed a network of dropboxes where people dropped ideas off. Through conversations with residents, there is clear evidence that there is a need for investments that address underlying conditions that impact health and well-being that aren’t funded through more traditional budgeting processes.

PBN: Recently, it was reported that ONE Neighborhood Builders acquired the former B. Tel Toro & Sons property at 393 Harris Ave. Can you tell us your organization’s involvement or plans for that site?

HAWKINS: This is such an exciting project. We’re partnering with The Steel Yard, which is an incredible community organization. They’ll be developing an artist space and our plan for the property includes the development of affordable housing that is accessible to the rest of the city. We’ll have more to announce on this in the future, but it’s a project we’re really excited about.

PBN: Earlier this year, ONE Neighborhood Builders announced that it’s working with Peabody Properties to manage 450 apartment units. Can you tell us about this partnership and why it made sense for ONE Neighborhood Builders?

HAWKINS: Our core mission is to develop affordable housing and engage neighbors across greater Providence to cultivate healthy, vibrant, and safe communities. We’re facing a housing crisis in Rhode Island and organizations like ONE|NB are focused intently on developing additional housing stock that individuals and families can afford. Partnering with Peabody Properties helps ensure that our homes are managed to high quality standards. Peabody made sense as a partner because they also deeply believe that affordable, accessible, and safe housing is the key to building strong communities.

PBN: How can members of the public best get involved and have their voice heard in the $1 million participatory budgeting campaign going forward? Are there any more events coming up? What can you tell us??

HAWKINS: Local residents can submit ideas at through mid-December. This site supports a handful of participatory budgeting efforts happening across the state. The steering committee for the Nine Neighborhood Fund will host another town hall meeting next week (Dec. 10 at 10am). We are also currently recruiting Project Delegates who will work with the Steering Committee to turn the collected ideas into fully-fledged proposals in January. Project Delegates are compensated for their time and can express interest here: Residents can also commit to voting next spring. Every member of the community from the nine neighborhoods who is 13 or older can vote.

Marc Larocque is a PBN contributing writer.