PROVIDENCE — Shaun Donovan, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, visited Olneyville Monday to tour four tenement houses refurbished under the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) and to tout a proposed successor program, Project Rebuild, that is part of President Barack Obama’s American Jobs Act.
During a brief press conference in a dirt lot between two of the rehabilitated houses, Donovan told reporters that when one house goes into foreclosure and gets boarded up, the houses around it lose $5,000 to $10,000 of their value “that very same day. And it begins a spiral of decline that drags down entire neighborhoods.”
He added that NSP “has begun to reverse that cycle of decline” noting that, “75 percent of the neighborhoods where we have invested neighborhood stabilization funds have seen their vacancy rates go down; two-thirds of those neighborhoods have seen their property values rise compared to surrounding neighborhoods.”
It is not only Olneyville that has benefitted from the NSP program. According to Richard Godfrey of Rhode Island Housing, the work his agency has been doing with the Pawtucket Citizens Development Corp. “has been a direct result of the NSP program. In Woonsocket we are working with NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley, in Central Falls we are working with REACH (Realty Endeavors for Affordable Community Housing). We are working with all those organizations now to acquire property and to use the NSP funds to bring them back.
“We are working with them on new developments and we expect that with Project Rebuild we will focus on allowing those groups to continue their work,” Godfrey told The Times.
Godfrey said all of the NSP money available through the Obama administration’s first stimulus package has been spent. “We really need Project Rebuild to get good things underway.”
If money becomes available from the federal government, Godfrey said, “we will be working with these organizations both in terms of acquiring property into a land bank, redevelopment loans so they can do some preliminary design work so the projects can be ‘shovel-ready.’”
Brenda Clement of the Housing Action Coalition of Rhode Island called programs like NSP and Project Rebuild “win-win-win” propositions. “They provide good jobs – construction jobs, obviously and longer-term jobs -- they provide affordable housing for workers and they put property back on the tax rolls.”
Sen. Jack Reed told Donovan, “we have been very successful here in Rhode Island deploying federal affordable housing funds.
“The Neighborhood Stabilization Program works,” Reed asserted. “It revitalizes homes, it gives a sense not only of better structures but of a better community. House by house we can and we will fight back against blight and foreclosure.”
Reed said Project Rebuild, now part of the Obama jobs plan being debated in Congress, would include commercial building as well as the residential structures that were the focus of NSP.
Donovan estimated that Project Rebuild would create 200,000 jobs nationwide, “hundreds of them right here in Providence rebuilding homes just like the ones we are standing in front of.”
“We can do more to help Rhode Island families and improve the housing market,” Donovan told about 50 Olneyville residents and housing advocates gathered for the event. “There are too many Americans who have done all the right things - paid their bills on time and are current on their mortgage – but are still stuck in a high interest mortgage because home price declines have made them ineligible for refinancing.
He said that each time a piece of the American Jobs Act has come before the Senate, a majority of senators approved it, and yet the president has not been able to sign it. Why is that? Because we have a minority of the Senate and a minority of Congress that is blocking progress, blocking our ability to make Olneyville the neighborhood you all envision it to be.”
Besides that, Donovan said, the bill includes a payroll tax cut for 20,000 Rhode Island businesses, 1,000 Rhode Island teachers and public safety personnel would avoid layoffs and 31,000 long-term unemployed would get tax breaks that would help them return to work.
“The new housing refinance plan includes a series of steps which will help responsible borrowers take advantage of today’s record low mortgage rates,” the secretary added. “These new steps will save underwater homeowners thousands of dollars each year, and it will not take an act of Congress. However, there is more work to do by passing the American Jobs Act which includes Project Rebuild, a program which helps put construction workers to work rehabilitating vacant or abandoned homes and businesses. Project Rebuild is an important piece toward strengthening the housing market and rebuilding our economy.”
“Just last week,” Donovan said, “we awarded a $2 million sustainable communities regional planning grant to make sure great neighborhoods and a great city are supported by a great region that has the transportation options that can get families in this community to work and to school and to everything they need very inexpensively to ensure we have the jobs of the future for the Providence region.”