Woonsocket is located on the Blackstone River along the northern border of Rhode Island. The city was formed in 1871, during a period of rapid industrialization in the region, to make use of the power generated by Woonsocket Falls. Early in the 20th century, large numbers of immigrants, particularly French-Canadians, were attracted to the jobs created by the expansion of textile mills and factories. Since the 1950s, though, industrial jobs and population have flowed out of Woonsocket.
Woonsocket's Consolidated Plan requests $1.6 million in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds, $449,000 in HOME Investment Partnership Program (HOME) funds, and $55,000 in Emergency Shelter Grant (ESG) funds during the first year of the plan. These funds will be used for 39 projects emphasizing rehabilitation of older housing and neighborhoods, community and economic development, and services for low- and moderate- income persons.
Development of the Woonsocket Consolidated Plan was coordinated with several
related local planning efforts that also had considerable community involvement.
Central to the citizen participation effort was a citizen advisory group that
held public meetings and reviewed applications for projects to be included in
the plan. It met nine times between February 15, 1995, and March 22, 1995. In
addition, there were three public hearings to consider the plan. The city
council reviewed the plan on April 17, 1995, and adopted it on May 17, 1995.
Announcements encouraging public participation in the meetings and hearings were
posted at various locations throughout the city and published in two daily
Woonsocket is a city of distinct character and presence. Its physical quality is defined in part by a rough topographic profile that features steeply sloping terrain. The Blackstone River, which twists its way through the entire city, is a determining influence. The city is part of a National Heritage Corridor, only the second such corridor in the United States. Though small in population and area, Woonsocket has the urban feel of a city where people can live, work, shop, and play.
Woonsocket's social character is also distinctive. Residents are mostly working class, with strong ethnic and family ties. The community is closely knit, presumably because for many years it was a predominantly French-Canadian enclave in an English-speaking State. Today 29 percent of its residents speak a language other than English. The city has a daily newspaper, two radio stations, and local cable programming.
The population of Woonsocket has declined from a peak of 50,211 in 1950 to 43,877 in 1990. There has been a net out-migration in all age groups except for persons over 70. Persons 65 and older account for 16 percent of the population, while those under 18 account for 24 percent of the population.
The racial makeup of the city remains overwhelmingly white at 93.3 percent of the population. The minority populations increased markedly during the 1980s, however, with Asian Americans constituting the largest minority (2.9 percent), followed by African Americans (2.6 percent).
While Woonsocket has 4 percent of the State's population, it has 10 percent
of those individuals who are currently on probation or parole. Woonsocket also
has a higher percentage than the State of high school dropouts, children who
receive free or subsidized lunches, and adults without high school diplomas. The
city's high school graduation rate is 65.2 percent, almost 20 percentage points
lower than the State rate.
More than one-half of the city's housing units were built before 1939. Because of the age of these units, many have accessibility deficiencies. The elderly and those with physical disabilities are especially vulnerable. Of the city's housing stock, 42 percent of the housing units are in structures containing two to four units each. These structures have narrow stairways and walkways and are not covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. According to social service providers, the population with special needs is being shut out of the city's housing market.
The combination of aging housing units and renters leads to greater upkeep and maintenance needs. When homes become uninhabitable or owners are no longer able to pay the mortgages, the structures are abandoned. There are over 100 abandoned buildings containing 450 units. Abandonment is a waste of housing resources and a blighting influence on adjacent properties and surrounding neighborhoods.
The city's housing supply has grown slowly. The current supply of rental housing is threatened because of a poor economic climate and a growing trend against investing in the city's older neighborhoods. A recent study found that 416 subsidized rental units may be lost to the private market, because the owners may prepay their government-backed mortgages and could then rent the units at market price.
Of the 17,572 households in the city, 65 percent are considered family households. There are 18,739 housing units, with almost 94 percent of these occupied. Of the occupied households, 64.5 percent are rental units. A majority of the 11,091 rental units are priced at $250 to $499 per month. Twenty-six percent are rented at less than $250 per month, while 15 percent are rented for $500 to $749 per month.
The region's housing market has recently completed one of the greatest boom-bust cycles ever. Housing prices in Woonsocket reached an all-time high in the late 1980s and were soon depressed by the greatest percentage ever. Combined with a recession in the regional economy that left some without work and others trapped in low-wage jobs, housing costs have risen beyond what many can pay.
In Woonsocket the median sales price of a home in 1993 was $98,500, and the median household income was $33,217. This income, though, is $2,000 below what is needed to afford a median-priced home. Of the 3,892 owner-occupied houses, 61 percent are valued between $100,000 and $149,000. Twenty-three percent of the houses are valued at under $100,000, and 3 percent are priced at more than $200,000.
Although 16 percent of Woonsocket's housing stock is subsidized in some form by the government, greater numbers of people are paying more than 35 percent of their income on housing costs. According to the 1990 census, 27 percent of renter households paid more than 35 percent of their household income for housing costs, an increase of 15 percent from 1980. Households that pay more than 28-30 percent of their income on housing costs are considered cost burdened. This cost burden especially affects very low-income residents.
City households with severe cost burdens (those paying more than 50 percent of their income for housing costs) automatically meet the Woonsocket Housing Authority's (WHA's) preference for admittance to subsidized developments or participation in the certificate or voucher program. The WHA estimates that one-half to three-quarters of their waiting list meets this standard.
There are no firm estimates as to the number of homeless in Woonsocket. The two shelters in the city, which can serve a total of 58 persons, are consistently filled to capacity. Many who would otherwise be homeless live with families or friends for temporary periods of time. Officials fear that more families and individuals could face the threat of homelessness because of recent cuts in the State General Public Assistance programs that benefit the low- income population.
A study of the city's homeless found that the largest segment of this population (40 percent) is families. The second largest group of homeless is women who are fleeing an abusive relationship and their children. The remaining segment of the homeless population is single men with substance abuse problems or mental illness.
The WHA manages 737 units of housing for elderly households and 575 units for families. The WHA has a total of six housing developments; all are considered to be viable for the next 20 years.
In addition, there are units subsidized by the Rhode Island Mortgage Finance Agency, Federal Sections 202, 221, 236, and Section 8 Moderate Rehabilitation programs. In all, 16 percent of the housing stock is government subsidized. There are 139 units of elderly housing in the city's Section 8 voucher and certificate program, with 32 persons on the waiting list. There are 35 family units in the Section 8 program, with 191 families on the waiting list.
The city also offers housing services, including home repairs, improvements, and accessibility needs, to residents who meet certain income guidelines. For four persons living together, the maximum allowable household income is $34,150. For one person the maximum is $23,900.
The large percentage of multifamily houses makes it difficult to buy and maintain the properties. Homeowners, especially the elderly, face difficulties in paying for a home on a limited income.
High property taxes have also become a burden to homeowners, first-time buyers, and renters. Exemptions are granted for those with special needs, but this affects only a small portion of the population. The city recognizes this barrier and is exploring a proposal to grant property tax relief for residents who buy and renovate abandoned houses.
The private sector cannot be expected to revive the city's housing market. Investors who tried to leverage capital against the equity on their property have found themselves in financial trouble because they took their action with the belief that rents would rise.
The city recognizes its growing minority population. It pledges that all of its programs will include proactive, positive, and inclusionary efforts to promote housing choice in all areas of the city. It admits, however, that there are some neighborhoods where these efforts fall short.
Lead-based paint is a serious environmental and health hazard for children. High levels of lead in a child's bloodstream can result in permanent brain damage. The problem is especially significant in older homes that have not undergone renovations. Because of Woonsocket's aging and deteriorating houses, the problem of lead-based paint is considered acute.
Eighty percent of Woonsocket's housing units are suspected of having lead-based paint. A child blood-lead level screening conducted between April 1992 and March 1993 found that 17.5 percent of those screened had some degree of lead poisoning. A total of 1,079 children were tested, and 189 had blood-lead levels high enough to be considered poisoned. An additional 535 children had elevated blood-lead levels.
There are 54 persons in Woonsocket living with HIV/AIDS. There is currently no city organization that serves this population. The issue of housing for persons living with HIV/AIDS was not raised at the three public meetings or the focus group meetings held by the advisory group.
Woonsocket was built for an earlier time. Its buildings, infrastructure, and traffic patterns do not function well in today's world. There is limited funding from the city to modernize and expand the existing base. There is also a limited amount of land suitable for building. With its small size (7.9 square miles) and heavy concentration of industry and people, there is little room for new construction.
However, as part of the National Heritage Corridor, Woonsocket can use its history to its advantage. The city can promote its historic buildings with classic architectural details and the natural beauty of the towns in the Blackstone Valley.
The city recognizes a need to improve its schools. It is targeting the high dropout rate among high school students and developing new programs to prepare students for the 21st century.
The city is committed to retaining and ensuring the health of existing
businesses and attracting new businesses. It is doing this through participation
in regional economic groups that promote training programs.
Woonsocket's overall goal is to improve its older neighborhoods and make them nice places to live. It envisions accomplishing this goal by rehabilitating deteriorated or abandoned homes in conjunction with other public improvements in targeted neighborhoods.
Woonsocket seeks to balance assisting those families and individuals most in need of housing with supporting programs that allow for greater homeownership opportunities. To make the city's vision a reality, the city is seeking to make it possible for low-income individuals and families to inhabit safe, decent, and affordable housing. Through a network of Federal and State programs, opportunities will be provided that make it more affordable for more people to own their homes throughout the city. Because maintenance on the older homes is expensive, the city will also assist low-income homeowners who want to stay in their homes.
Woonsocket's housing priorities emphasize the need to use existing structures, whether they are occupied or abandoned. The city takes a variety of approaches to accomplish this goal and apply it to all segments of the city's population. High priorities are to:
Woonsocket's non-housing priorities are all designed to improve on the existing natural and industrial resources. The priorities recognize the city's lack of open space and its need to develop and expand its economic base. These non-housing priorities are:
The city seeks to break the cycle of poverty by developing social competence and self- sufficiency while ensuring that basic services for survival are provided. Woonsocket will assist the homeless in obtaining appropriate housing, assist those at risk of becoming homeless, and increase and retain the affordable housing stock for low- and very low- income families.
The city anticipates $30 million in available funds to address the needs identified in the Consolidated Plan. Most of this funding is from entitlement awards. These entitlement funds will be used to rehabilitate and improve social service facilities and agencies serving low- income residents and neighborhoods. Woonsocket has also participated in affordable housing activities on a regional level by serving as a regional housing office for three neighboring communities.
A critical element of the city's affordable housing agenda is the use of private resources in debt financing, equity, donations of housing materials and land, and expertise. Major sources of private investment have included: the Woonsocket Neighborhood Development Corporation, a local community housing development organization; the United Way, which contributes support services for emergency housing and homeless support services; local banks; and volunteers.
The Woonsocket Department of Planning and Development will implement CDBG, ESG, HOME, and Rhode Island Housing Home Repair Programs funds. The WHA implements the rental certificate and voucher programs and other housing assistance grants. The Northern Rhode Island Community Mental Health Center implements the Section 202 Elderly programs and the Permanent Housing for the Handicapped grant. The Woonsocket Shelter Community Action Program and Transition House are responsible for implementing their respective transitional housing programs.
The Department of Planning and Development monitors progress in meeting the
housing and community development goals. Tools used in monitoring the progress
include environmental reviews, labor standards compliance, procurement and
financial management, national objectives, and equal opportunity records.
During Fiscal Year 1995, Woonsocket will undertake 39 projects using CDBG, ESG, and HOME funds. The projects tie in with the city's overall goal of renovating existing structures and putting them back to work for the community. Ultimately, it is expected that these projects will help the economic stability of Woonsocket and make it a more attractive city. Major projects are:
MAP 2 depicts points of interest and low-moderate income areas.
MAP 3 depicts points of interest, low-moderate income areas, and minority concentration levels.
MAP 4 depicts points of interest, low-moderate income areas, and unemployment levels.
MAP 5 depicts points of interest, low-moderate income areas, unemployment levels, and proposed HUD funded projects.
MAP 6 is a map, sectioned by neighborhood, which depicts points of interest, low-moderate income areas, unemployment levels, and proposed HUD funded projects.
MAP 7 depicts points of interest, low-moderate income areas, unemployment levels, and proposed HUD funded projects within one of the four neighborhoods indicated in MAP 6.
MAP 8 depicts points of interest, low-moderate income areas, unemployment levels, and proposed HUD funded projects within another of the four neighborhoods indicated in MAP 6.
MAP 9 depicts points of interest, low-moderate income areas, unemployment levels, and proposed HUD funded project(s) from a street level vantage point; in addition, a table provides information about the project(s).
169 Main Street
Woonsocket, RI 02895