One Neighborhood Builders behind $2.2M modular home project in Providence

A MODULAR UNIT IS RAISED by a crane on Wednesday, March 2, 2022, to be lowered into place as part of the
A MODULAR UNIT IS RAISED by a crane on March 2 to be lowered into place as part of the "Bowdoin Street Rowhouse," an eight-unit affordable-housing development that's being developed by the nonprofit One Neighborhood Builders at the 101 Bowdoin St. site of a deadly fire that occurred in 2018. / PHOTO COURTESY STEPHEN IDE OF ONE NEIGHBORHOOD BUILDERS

PROVIDENCE – They looked like children’s building blocks being stacked neatly together, as the prefabricated modular homes that make up the “Bowdoin Street Rowhouse” apartment complex in Providence were hoisted up and assembled recently by a crane operator.

“It’s like an Erector or Lego set,” said Jennifer Hawkins, president and executive director of One Neighborhood Builders. “The cranes plopped one on top of each other within a week.”

Those rectangular blocks make up a $2.2 million affordable housing project that’s being undertaken by the nonprofit One Neighborhood Builders, which expects construction at the 110 Bowdoin St. site to be completed by the end of May. The project, which is being completed by the South Kingstown-based general contractor Coastal Modular Homes, includes eight residences, with six two-bedroom apartments and two one-bedroom apartments.

The Bowdoin Street Rowhouse was the first modular home project for One Neighborhood Builders, which sought to undertake this kind of development due to the cost efficiencies that it provides, Hawkins said. The per unit development cost $275,000, while a traditional stick-built project would have cost $60,000 to $70,000 more per unit, Hawkins said.

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The modular homes were shipped in on trucks from Liverpool, Pennsylvania, near Harrisburg, where they were manufactured by Champion Modular Homes, Hawkins said. The homes already include rough plumbing, with light fixtures, toilets and even vanity mirrors already built in, Hawkins said. Pre-built roof trusses pop up once the second-story boxes are put in place, she said, before the general contractor comes in and finishes the project with electrical work, plumbing and finer construction detailing. 

The modular homes were designed specifically to be 13 feet, 8 inches in length, Hawkins said, the maximum length without requiring wide load flaggers and police details for highway travel.

“If we had a box that was of greater width, it would increase the cost substantially,” Hawkins said. “We intentionally designed it with those specs in mind.”

The one-bedroom apartments provide about 550 square feet in living space, while the two-bedroom apartments are 950 square feet, she said.

The prefabricated homes were brought in from Pennsylvania because there are no local manufacturers that make them, Hawkins said.

“It would be wonderful if there could be a local modular development company,” Hawkins said. “There’s nothing local. It’s a wide-open opportunity for someone to start a local modular development company.”

"THE BOWDOIN STREET ROWHOUSE" awaits final roof work after construction on Thursday, March 3, 2022. The EIGHT modular units of affordable housing are expected to be completed by May. / PHOTO COURTESY STEPHEN IDE OF ONE NEIGHBORHOOD BUILDERS
“THE BOWDOIN STREET ROWHOUSE” awaits final roof work after construction on March 3. The EIGHT modular units of affordable housing are expected to be completed by May. / PHOTO COURTESY STEPHEN IDE OF ONE NEIGHBORHOOD BUILDERS

The 110 Bowdoin St. site was acquired by One Neighborhood Builders from the city of Providence for $65,000 after the government took the property through tax sale foreclosure, following a deadly fire in 2018 that destroyed one building there and damaged two others, Hawkins said.

Three buildings there were demolished shortly after the fire, she said, but the nonprofit wasn’t able to gain control over the site until early 2021. Leading up to that, One Neighborhood Builders worked with Peter Case of Truth Box Architects, which is located close to the project site, to develop a plan that was presented to the Providence Planning Department.

“We’ve just always had our finger on the pulse of all the properties in the neighborhood and care very much about that street,” said Hawkins, explaining that her organization is headquartered nearby in the Olneyville neighborhood of Providence. “It’s been historically disinvested and has had trouble with blighted properties and vacant properties. We knew we wanted to help stabilize that street and we had the opportunity to acquire a critical mass of lots so we could do something of some degree of scale. … It was a long process.”

Hawkins thanked the Providence VA Medical Center for allowing the organization to temporarily store the modular units at its grounds at 500 Valley St.

“If not for that, I don’t know what we would have done,” she said.

The Bowdoin Street Rowhouse apartments are being made available to renters who make 50% to 80% of the median come for the area, Hawkins said. One Neighborhood Builders is now accepting applications for potential renters and the homes will be occupied by June, Hawkins said.

The modular home projects follow other novel affordable housing projects completed by One Neighborhood Builders, including the Sheridan Small Homes in Olneyville, and King Street Commons, with an on-site child care center and income averaging, a more flexible form of income eligibility that looks at the average income of the entirety of its residents.

Marc Larocque is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Larocque@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter @LaRockPBN.

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