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HUD secretary tours neighborhood rebirth in RI

By David Klepper
Associated Press / November 28, 2011
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PROVIDENCE, R.I.—The nation's top public housing official toured a Providence neighborhood Monday to showcase what he called a successful revitalization effort and to highlight the need for more housing programs.

U.S. Secretary for Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan was joined by the state's congressional delegation and Providence Mayor Angel Taveras during his visit to the city's Olneyville neighborhood. Donovan said state and federal housing dollars have helped reduce crime while increasing occupancy rates in the once troubled area.

"This is one of the great stories of a neighborhood and a city that have been turned around," Donovan said.

Olneyville once stood at the forefront of a booming textile economy, but following World War II the mills closed, the jobs left and the neighborhood languished.

Some 5,500 people now live in the neighborhood, located west of downtown Providence. Almost two-thirds are Hispanic. The median household income in Olneyville was less than $23,000 in 2009, less than half of the state's median income that year.

The neighborhood still struggles with blight, as boarded up homes, graffiti, broken windows and litter attest.

But the area does show signs of progress. A home that was devastated by arson was demolished and two adjacent homes were rehabilitated and put on the market. A block that experienced three murders in three years was turned into modernized affordable housing. Down the street a contaminated trash dump was transformed into a community park. Work is scheduled to begin next month on a project that will turn 12 foreclosed homes into affordable apartments.

Frank Shea, executive director of the Olneyville Housing Corporation, said many parts of Olneyville were once "no man's land" because of high crime and blight. "Now we've got hundreds of people living there and hundreds of people playing there," he said.

Donovan also touted President Barack Obama's proposal to put local construction companies to work rehabilitating vacant homes and businesses. Rhode Island could receive up to $33 million in new housing dollars if the proposal is approved.

U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, a Democrat, vowed to keep pushing to pass the proposal, which is now hung up in Congress.

"House by house we can and we will fight back against blight and foreclosure," Reed said.

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