Five Questions With:
Jennifer Hawkins

JENNIFER HAWKINS is the executive director of ONE Neighborhood Builders. / COURTESY GRETCHEN ERTL PHOTOGRAPHY

Jennifer Hawkins is the executive director of ONE Neighborhood Builders, a nonprofit that is working on community-development initiatives in several neighborhoods in Providence. She provided an update on projects and priorities for the organization.

PBN: What is King Street Commons and who will it provide housing for?

HAWKINS: In 2013, we issued a neighborhood revitalization plan called the Build Olneyville plan. It was funded by the [Department of Housing and Urban Development] Choice Neighborhoods initiative.

The idea was how do we connect the Providence Housing development called Manton Heights, which is in the neighborhood, along with the next of the neighborhood. It was physically isolated. The only way to access Riverside Park and that area was through this street that had been closed with Jersey barriers for years because of illegal dumping and crime.

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The idea was how do we strategically redevelop this blighted part of the neighborhood that cuts off this public housing from the rest of the neighborhood. We will be constructing 30 apartments and 8,500 square feet of an early childhood education center. It will be four Head Start classrooms. The provider we have selected is Children’s Friend.

King Street Commons has two components: new construction of 30 new apartments and the 8,500-square-foot early childhood center, plus the renovation and re-syndication of 32 apartments that were originally constructed in 2001 in the Elmwood neighborhood. In total, it is 62 units.

PBN: For the new construction portion of this project, are the Head Start classrooms part of the building itself?

HAWKINS: Yes. There are actually going to be four apartments above. It’s a mixed-use [project]. There are seven distinct buildings. It’s townhome-style. The total project is $17.2 million.

PBN: Is the lease for Children’s Friend the first time you’ve worked with them? Why a Head Start use, is there demand for that in the neighborhood?

HAWKINS: Exactly. It came out of that neighborhood revitalization plan, really identifying a lack of high-quality, early childhood care. Across the street, Children’s Friend has been operating a Head Start program, really successful but over-subscribed.

PBN: When does the construction start?

HAWKINS: We hope to close in December and start construction in the first quarter of 2020. HUD has allowed this program for income averaging, and that’s how we do it.

Normally, for low-income housing tax credit projects, the income of any household cannot exceed 60% of area median income. What this allows you to do is as long as the average is 60%, you can go a little over. That really helps from a marketing standpoint. We have a wider swath of people that we can offer apartments to.

PBN: When the PBN last interviewed you, you identified the scarcity of affordable housing as the most pressing issue facing Providence. Has it gotten worse or better since 2017?

HAWKINS: It has only gotten more acute. The wage stagnation and the increased rental prices, wages just aren’t keeping pace with that. It continues to be a very severe problem and we are just not able to produce at that level.

Mary MacDonald is a staff writer for the PBN. Contact her at macdonald@pbn.com.