OpenDoors Begins Construction on Affordable Housing for Formerly Incarcerated

July 6, 2010 - 3:43pm

Former factory would be home to ex-inmates

by Lynn Arditi, Journal Staff Writer

PROVIDENCE — Nearly $1.8 million in federal stimulus funds will be used to help transform a historic building that once housed the Sealtest Ice Cream Factory into affordable housing designed for former inmates who are returning to live in the community.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the $4.3-million project at 485 Plainfield St., in the city’s Silver Lake neighborhood, is scheduled Monday. Providence Mayor David Cicilline and Rhode Island Department of Corrections Director A.T. Wall are among those expected to attend.

The project’s developer is the local nonprofit OpenDoors (formerly know as the Family Life Center), which helps released prisoners. The organization plans to move its offices into the new building –– which will include 19 single-unit apartments –– and assist the tenants by providing counseling services, employment workshops and assisting with job searches.

“We have many buildings that are designed with very special social-service providers in mind — mental health, veterans, and so on,” said Richard Godfrey, executive director of Rhode Island Housing, which helped finance the project. “This is the only residential development put together with an agency that provides special services for formerly incarcerated people. This is a model that more and more states are turning to as a way to assure better success, reduce recidivism [and] provide meaningful employment for folks coming out of incarceration.”

A $2.2-million construction contract for the rehab work has been awarded to The Bailey Group of Warwick.

The idea for the project dates back five or six years to a National Governors Association conference, Godfrey said, when Governor Carcieri participated in a task force focused on helping prisoners reenter the community.

For the last two decades, the building that once housed an ice cream factory at 485 Plainfield St. has been vacant. The last of the tenants –– a series of jewelry manufacturers –– moved out around 1990.

In late 2008, the vacant building (built between 1915 and 1918) landed on the National Register of Historic Places.

But securing the financing needed to rehab the building took time –– and help from the federal government.

In the wake of the mortgage-lending slump, the U.S. Treasury has been trying to stimulate the construction industry by buying back federal tax credits that housing finance agencies have been unable to use because of tight lending markets. The $1.8 million for the OpenDoors project came from tax credits that the Rhode Island Housing and Mortgage Finance Corp. (aka Rhode Island Housing) sold back to the Treasury for about 85 cents for ever dollar, Godfrey said.

In addition to nearly $1.8 million from the federal tax-credit exchange program, the project is being paid for with a variety of state and federal funds, including $94,954 in deferred loan payments from Rhode Island Housing; $850,000 from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program; and a $50,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Management.

Besides the capital funds, an additional $1,804,305 has been allocated to the project for consulting, services, and other work.

That includes:

•Neighborhood Opportunities Program (NOP) to support operations and finance services for residents: $1,077,250

•LISC appraisal, historic consulting and development consulting: $15,000

•Corporation for Supportive Housing for the initial purchase of the building and for environmental and historic consulting: $609,500

•Rhode Island Housing’s pre-development loan for architectural, survey work and historic consulting: $102,555

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