After a generation of being the exhibit hall for the State Fair and Cattle Drive, after years of being a school house, a residential home, as a senior home and then being vacant for three years, the Fair Mansion will be renovated into 10 affordable housing units by House of Hope.
By a unanimous vote, the City Council approved the House of Hope CDC’s zoning application to convert the historic house at 69 Fair St. in Pawtuxet into five apartments and build an addition for an additional five units.
House of Hope CDC helps homeless find more permanent solutions through affordable housing. They are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year.
The property at 69 Fair St. is in need of serious repair.
House of Hope purchased the building for $185,000 in November of 2012 and has since been going through the motions to begin construction. At the completion of the project, the mansion will contain the housing units in addition to a common area open to all occupants. A case manager will be on site five days a week to help residents get back on their feet. Residents would pay 30 percent of their income as rent.
On Monday night, House of Hope’s lawyer Kenneth McGunagle introduced the project and the parameters of the reconstruction.
He said, “With the restoration of the mansion, we will be saving a piece of Warwick’s history.” House of Hope received $231,107 in historical tax credits for the renovations from the state. About $2 million in grants and federal funds have been earmarked for the project, according to Taylor Ellis, the housing development manager.
The application calls for the rezoning of 69 Fair St., which is currently zoned as residential, to a planned district residential and historic lot. This would allow for walkways and parking to be constructed for the mansion. The addition will allow for five one-bedroom apartments. It would be in the back of the house attached by a breezeway to the mansion. The lawn and entranceway would be preserved during construction.
Jean Johnson, executive director of House of Hope, offered a heartfelt thank you to the council and the city of Warwick.
She said, “It is my pleasure and my privilege to be here presenting a beautiful project. We are proud of our efforts to help the most disadvantaged of our city, the homeless.”
She handed out commemorative books that told the story of numerous individuals who had been helped by House of Hope. The book had first been distributed at House of Hope’s 25th Anniversary dinner in May.
Johnson admitted she had always had her eye on the property, especially since House of Hope had renovated the adjoining property on Fair Street.
Johnson said, “The homeless and disabled need a bit more of a helping hand. We will have a case manager on the property and a common space. More than housing, we try and develop a community for these people so they can move on to independence.”
No one from the public spoke against the project, but Johnson addressed the issues she had sometimes seen in previous projects. She mentioned that occasionally people had been skeptical of the project and the individuals it would help.
“They become wonderful neighbors. They are very involved in their communities. We are going to continue this trend,” Johnson said.
Many of the council members, who have House of Hope developments in their wards, attested that the individuals involved in the program only add to the community rather than take away from it.
Councilman Steven Colantuono (R-Ward 1) said, “I have never heard one complaint from my constituents about this project. Jean, I really appreciate your efforts.”
Charles Donovan Jr. (D-Ward 7) said, “I just want to speak up for the good work you do. There was some concern when the project in Apponaug began, but this is a first rate and first class operation.”
Council members Ed Ladouceur (D-Ward 5), Donna Travis (D-Ward 6) and Camille Vella-Wilkinson (D-Ward 3) all spoke up to thank Johnson and House of Hope for the wonderful things they do for the city.
Travis said, “Helping families and restoring a historical building, it’s a double plus. You need to hear the stories from the people helped. They gain their pride back.”
When roll was called there were nine enthused yes votes. House of Hope received favorable action and first passage in rezoning the plot to begin construction.
Mayor Scott Avedisian said, “It is a wonderful project and I am sure they will get second passage as well. House of Hope does incredible work; they are one of the success stories of a non-profit. This is a very, very exciting project, especially because it is preserving part of Warwick. The house once served as the headquarters for the State Fair and now it will serve another generation.”
The council will consider second and final approval of the rezoning in August. The next step for House of Hope is to receive preliminary and final approvals from the Planning Board. The architect will be finishing plans and then the project will go out to bid.
Ellis explained that construction should begin at the beginning of 2015 and finish that same year.