2015 Providence Symposium: Olneyville and the Preservation of Neighborhoods

Nov 5, 2015

Rhode Island Public Radio's Chuck Hinman talks with Jay O'Grady, Director of Operations and Asset Management at ONE Neighborhood Builders, about the 2015 Providence Symposium and the efforts to preserve and revitalize the Olneyville neighborhood.

The 2015 Providence Symposium runs from Thursday November 5th through Saturday November 7th in Olneyville. Presented by the Providence Preservation Society, the Symposium this year is called Beyond Buildings: Preserving the Livable Neighborhood. The PPS says its program of speakers, panel discussions and neighborhood tours will focus on the latest and best thinking about ways to preserve and revitalize neighborhoods in Providence.

"Expand the conversation about preservation beyond just the individual building," says Jay O'Grady of ONE Neighborhood Builders. "The neighborhood and the folks that live in the neighborhood are assets in and of themselves."

O'Grady says ONE Neighborhood Builders is an affiliation of two long-standing non-profits, Olneyville Housing Corporation and Community Works RI. For the past eight years or so, they've been involved with trying to mitigate the damage done by the foreclosure crisis of 2007-2008. "Olneyville is probably among the worst-hit neighborhoods in the state of Rhode Island," says O'Grady. He estimates that at the height of the crisis, Olneyville contained about 500 foreclosed and abandoned housing units. Working to revitalize areas almost a block at a time, O'Grady says they have made progress, but more work needs to be done. 

O'Grady points to the Olney Village project as an example of a completed success. "It focused on the William D'Abate Elementary School, on Kossuth St. After the foreclosure disaster, virtually all the streets that led into the D'Abate School main entrance were just scarred  with vacant, abandoned, foreclosed houses." That didn't just make for an unsightly walk to school for the neighborhood kids; it was a magnet for drug-dealing, prostitution and arson. 

Kossuth St. before
Credit ONE Neighborhood Builders
Kossuth St. after
Credit ONE Neighborhood Builders

"So we strategically got control of ten of those buildings that immediately adjoined the William D'Abate school site. We rehabbed all of them," says O'Grady. He adds that now there are about 36 affordable housing units there for working families and their children, with safe walking routes to school.

The next project for ONE Neighborhood Builders is something they're calling Amherst Gardens. It expands on the Olney Village effort, moving to Amherst St., which runs parallel to Kossuth St. 

O'Grady says, "Amherst St. is similarly littered with vacant and abandoned foreclosed buildings. We've now got control of 13 of them, and look to start construction in the spring."