Public Housing In Providence Improves

After decades of ill-designed public housing that kept a clear line between the low-income and everyone else, a new movement is collecting momentum for more accurately integrating public housing into neighborhoods while protecting their character.
October 8, 2006, 11am PDT | Nate Berg
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In Providence, Rhode Island, public housing is not too hard to find. Not because there is so much of it, but because it does not mesh with the neighborhoods it is placed in. But now, public housing agencies are working with the city and state to create stricter design guidelines for all new public housing projects, blurring the line between the original neighborhood and the new public housing.

"Beginning in the late '80s in Providence, under O'Rourke, public-housing high-rises ('the projects') were demolished and replaced by units distributed around the city (scattered-site housing). But the latter, mostly townhouses, were still stigmatized by a 'public-housing' look. Their more or less contemporary designs -- often snazzy yet tacky and unornamented versions of traditional styles -- stick out like sore thumbs on blocks lined with capes, triple-deckers, bungalows or Victorians. There was little hope that subsidized tenants living in such housing might blend into a community, in part because their housing did not blend into its architecture. Often unfairly, their houses cried out, 'We don't belong here!' "

"In the last decade, both public and subsidized housing design has changed, here and around the country. It finally occurred to leaders in the affordable-housing arena (public, quasi-public and private) that blending affordable housing into the fabric of its neighborhoods makes the range of problems associated with affordability easier to manage."

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Published on Thursday, October 5, 2006 in The Providence Journal
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