Affordable success: Housing advocates & local officials showcase Burrillville development

From left are Rep. Michael Chippendale; Town Councilor Jeremy Bailey; Burrillville Redevelopment Agency Chairman Jim Langlois; Councilor Dennis Anderson; Greenridge resident Gladys Colon; Housing Authority Executive Director Melina Lodge and BRA Vice Chairman Jeff Barr. NRI NOW photo by Sandy Hall

BURRILLVILLE – Not all affordable housing is built the same, and at an event this week, statewide advocates noted that they can develop plans that fit each community, showcasing the success of Greenridge Commons, a project featuring 96 fully-occupied rental units spanning two locations in Pascoag.

Unlike many communities in Rhode Island, Burrillville has consistently reached the state’s affordable housing goal thanks to such projects. And as other municipalities struggle to reach the 10 percent requirement, the town’s success is not by chance, officials noted, but rather through a thoughtful collaboration between groups with complimentary goals.

For housing advocates such as NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley Executive Director Joe Garlick, the goal is creation of safe and affordable spaces for more Rhode Islanders to call home.

And for Burrillville officials including the town’s Redevelopment Agency and predominantly Republican Town Council, it is fighting blight, revitalizing sleepy former mill villages and spurring economic growth.

“It’s been great working in Burrillville,” Garlick said at the gathering on Monday, March 25. “You guys punch so far above your weight when it comes to futuristic planning. For a little town, what happens here is the model.”

The town’s successful and mutually beneficial collaboration with NeighborWorks began in Harrisville, with development of the Stillwater Mill Complex and repurposing of the Clocktower building to feature 47 units of affordable housing. The project, which has also included creation of more walkable spaces and amenities like the neighboring library and pavilion, has been widely recognized as an innovative approach to economic development and was the winner of a Grow Smart Award in 2012.

Since then, efforts have focused on Pascoag, starting with construction of two mixed use buildings that are now home to both successful businesses such as Bravo Brewing Company, and income-qualified renters in need of affordable living quarters. Initiatives in that village have also included development of parks, walking trails and open space, as well as continued creation of affordable living space in Greenridge Commons, made up of 75 units along Garvy Ledges Lane and the other 21 in the village’s downtown.

Garlick noted that the Pascoag arrangement recognizes that people – meaning potential customers to patronize a business – are key to a successful redevelopment plan. Organizations such as NeighborWorks work with the Housing Network of Rhode Island to provide funding for acquisition and construction of such developments, and also bring in those people with the help of property management agencies.

“All of this stuff has integrated really nicely with affordable housing development,” Garlick said. “You guys have done well using housing as a leverage.”

BRA Chairman Jim Langlois noted that his agency tries to focus on building community – and that includes housing, business opportunities and gatherings such as the successful Spring & Fall “Splash,” events held in the area of Pascoag’s Fountain Park last year.

“Our businesses in Harrisville and Pascoag are thriving,” said Langlois. “It’s about more than just structures.”

Langlois pointed out that the houses on Garvey Ledges were built to compliment the existing landscape. The cul-de-sac has the appearance of a quaint suburban neighborhood complete with a community center, and children riding bikes and scooters along quiet streets and sidewalks.

“The Planning Board was interested in architectural styles that fit Pascoag,” Garlick explained of how the unique and attractive neighborhood was designed.

He noted that yet another example of an innovative approach to housing was built just a few blocks away in Burrillville on George Eddy Road, where neighbors have utilized a concept known as, “sweat equity,” working to build their future houses together.

“I think what we want the General Assembly to understand is that our partners aren’t about just building housing,” said Melina Lodge, executive director of the Housing Network.

Lodge said the Burrillville gathering was set to be the first in a series showcasing housing projects from the past several decades in towns across Rhode Island. It marks a push to demonstrate how such collaborations can work for any community amid a housing crisis in the state that has sometimes found groups such as those gathered in town this week mistakenly at odds with one another.

She noted that a recent study found that 80 percent of the housing stock in Rhode Island is zoned for single family use.

“We are never going to meet the housing demand in the state if we’re only able to build one house on one lot,” Lodge said.

The meeting ended with a brief tour of one of the occupied units. Those in attendance included Town Councilors Dennis Anderson and Jeremy Bailey, along with District 40 Rep. Michael Chippendale.

Rep. Michael Chippendale looks out the window of one home in Greenridge Commons. The development is surrounded by 200 acres of deed-restricted open space. NRI NOW photo by Sandy Hall

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