Five Questions With: Milton Baxter

Milton Baxter is director of real estate and general counsel for ONE Neighborhood Builders, the Providence-based nonprofit established in 1988 that’s devoted to developing more affordable housing, which it’s now doing with several ongoing construction projects and proposals throughout Rhode Island.

That includes small, cost-efficient modular homes in Olneyville, and low-cost apartments for seniors that it wants to build in a Cumberland church. On top of its low-income home construction efforts, the group recently announced the creation of a new $500,000 community-led loan fund for central Providence to help local small businesses.

PBN: What is “The Avenue” and where does that project stand?

BAXTER: The Avenue is a proposed 39-unit new construction building on Atwells Avenue that is being combined with the rehabilitation of 46 units of existing LIHTC [Low-Income Housing Tax Credit] affordable housing in the Elmwood neighborhood of Providence. We hope to break ground on the new construction before the end of 2022.

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The new construction building will be a mixed-use and mixed-income building with ground level retail space and offering affordable rental housing to households earning from 30% of AMI [area median income] along with market-rate units. The Elmwood component of the project will allow for the moderate rehabilitation and capital improvements of the existing units that are already in our portfolio.

We have applied for final plan approval from the city of Providence for the new construction and have received funding awards from the Building Homes Rhode Island program. We have additional funding applications pending with [the] R.I. Housing [and Mortgage Finance Corp.].

PBN: Your organization has been doing a lot recently in the Olneyville area of Providence, including the Bowdoin Street Rowhouse modular homes. What makes this project significant and what’s the status of the project?

BAXTER: The Bowdoin Street project is an eight-unit modular construction affordable housing development that will serve households earning up to 80% of the area median income. The first significant element of this development is the redevelopment of formerly vacant and blighted lots, which will serve to improve the neighborhood. Since the start of construction of our development, we have seen additional new construction and rehabilitation of other nearby properties.

Secondly, we used modular construction for this development, which has reduced the overall total development costs and the time to complete construction. We believe that is the first income-restricted multifamily development in Rhode Island that used modular construction and we hope to be able to use the lessons learned from this development to more efficiently construct affordable housing going forward. Construction will be completed by the end of July and lease-up of the units will begin Aug. 1.

PBN: ONE Neighborhood Builders recently partnered on a $500,000 trust to provide flexible capital to businesses and nonprofits in Providence. What will the Central Providence Community Loan Fund do that makes it important enough to be a part of this?

BAXTER: The Central Providence Community Loan Fund is a community-led fund that provides low-interest loans for neighborhood and economic revitalization in central Providence. The fund provides small businesses and nonprofits located in 02908 and 02909 ZIP codes with low-interest, flexible capital for individuals and groups that may not otherwise have access to traditional sources of capital. Loans will range from $1,000 to $20,000 with a 2% interest rate for up to five years. Eligible businesses and nonprofits must have fewer than 25 employees. It is by the community, and for the community. Our hope is that it will revolve and grow in perpetuity, serving as an ongoing source of capital for entrepreneurs in central Providence.

PBN: We’ve also heard about a plan for an adaptive reuse of the historic St. Patrick’s Church in Cumberland for affordable housing. Can you tell us about the history of this project, some of the details and what’s the status of this now?

BAXTER: We will be seeking master plan approval of the project later this summer and have secured an award of acquisition funding from R.I. Housing. We expect to apply for Low-Income Housing Tax Credits from R.I. Housing in the next funding round later this year.

The former Saint Patrick’s Church property was put on the market in 2020. The town of Cumberland, concerned that the property would be purchased by a developer that would raze the church, was looking for a developer that could redevelop the property, preserving the church, and to increase available affordable housing in their community. They reached out to ONE Neighborhood Builders to ask us to determine whether it was feasible to redevelop the property into affordable housing while also preserving the existing church building.

We developed a plan to construct 42 units of affordable housing, which includes 21 units in the church building, 12 units in a new building at the site of the existing rectory building, and nine townhome-style units along Broad Street. Residents will be households earning up to 60% of AMI and we will be reserving 12 units for seniors under a nursing home diversion program.

PBN: And how about the Residences at Riverside Square? What are the details of that project, what makes it important and where does it stand?

BAXTER: The Residences at Riverside Square is a 16-unit, 100% affordable rental housing development to be constructed in the Riverside neighborhood of East Providence. The development will serve households earning up to 80% of AMI and there will be three units reserved for adults that have aged out of foster care under a partnership with Foster Forward.

This project is being built on a vacant lot in the center of Riverside Square that was environmentally impacted by its former use as a jewelry-plating company. ONE|NB was awarded development rights to the site after responding to a request for proposals issued by the city of East Providence. We have obtained necessary zoning approvals and received funding awards from Building Homes Rhode Island and R.I. Housing. We are expecting to close on our financing in October and begin construction immediately following, with completion expected in October of 2023.

Marc Larocque is a PBN contributing writer.