For Immediate Release: May 4, 2014
Providence College Announces $750,000 Grant to Smith Hill Community Development Corporation
PC’s partnership with the Smith Hill CDC is believed to be the only one of its kind in Rhode Island; College announcement made at viewing party for “Restoring Smith Hill,” a documentary by PC MBA Student J. Henry Smith, which will premiere on RI PBS this evening.
Providence, R.I. - Providence College President Rev. Brian J. Shanley, O.P. announced today that the College has provided a $750,000 grant to the Smith Hill Community Development Corporation (CDC) to support the CDC’s core mission of providing safe, affordable housing in the Smith Hill community. The CDC will use the grant, $250,000/yr. for three years, to help improve the housing stock along Douglas Ave. and Admiral Street, both of which are gateways to the PC campus.
(Note: this grant is not coming from student tuition dollars or from any other area of the College’s operating funds.)
Fr. Shanley made the announcement at a College event to celebrate the premier of “Restoring Smith Hill,” a documentary film by PC MBA Student J. Henry Smith. The documentary was set to air on Rhode Island Public Television at 6:00 p.m. this evening.
“Providence College has a long-standing and highly visible track record of commitment to our local community,” said Fr. Shanley. “If there is a common thread running through much of our work in Smith Hill of late, it is the partnership we have developed with the Smith Hill CDC. They have done outstanding work in their core mission of reclaiming boarded-up and dilapidated houses, and restoring those properties to provide safe, affordable housing for the people of Smith Hill. We believe in the CDC and in the work they are doing. This grant is a way for us to publicly thank them for their partnership and to affirm our support for them as an organization.”
Providence College and the Smith Hill CDC have partnered on several projects in the last few years, all of which are designed to bring the College and the Smith Hill community closer together. Two of the more recent projects are side-by-side on Douglas Ave. The College and the CDC opened the Providence College/Smith Hill Annex at 231 Douglas Ave. in 2013. Just a few weeks ago, the two organizations collaborated with PC students to start a small business, the Common Grounds Café, at 231 Douglas Ave., adjacent to the Annex project.
“Community development corporations are only as strong as their partners,” said Francis H. Smith, executive director of the Smith Hill Community Development Corporation. “Providence College has emerged as the most vital private partner of this organization. Funding in the non-profit housing arena is very competitive and we have witnessed the dollars from governmental sources being reduced constantly. This funding will go a long way in helping to bridge those gaps that only seem to be widening.”
“We have been in the business of community development for over 22 years; this is the single largest gift in the history of the organization,” Smith said.
The Smith Hill Community Development Corporation (CDC)
The CDC was founded in 1992 in collaboration with a group of dedicated community residents. Upon receiving training around such issues as affordable housing and community development, the CDC staff applied for and received 501(c)3 certification thus cementing their status as a non-profit community development corporation existing within the bounds of the Smith Hill Neighborhood. Subsequently, the CDC received initial funding from LISC, Citizens Community Trust, The Rhode Island Foundation, and the City of Providence Department of Planning and Development; confirming the CDC’s already adamant belief that neighborhood revitalization and affordable housing opportunities were imperative for both the social and economic growth of the Smith Hill Neighborhood.
Now entering their 22st year of successful community development in the Smith Hill Neighborhood, the organization’s mission remains unchanged: An unfettered commitment to the creation and sustaining of affordable housing to low-moderate income families and individuals through both rental and homeownership opportunities. Additionally, the CDC seeks to promote a sense of community and stimulate economic development for all of our community residents.
Providence College/Smith Hill Annex
The Providence College Smith Hill/Annex operates in space that the College leases from the CDC. Its purpose is to foster mutual understanding and to increase opportunities for dialogue and conversation between and among members of the PC and Smith Hill communities. The College teaches several classes there which are open to PC students as well as to community members. In addition, the Annex hosts a number of local programs and discussion groups as well as a monthly pot-luck meal where students and community members can dine together, share stories and get to know one another better.
Common Grounds Café
Common Grounds Café grew out of an Alternative Spring Break trip that several PC students took to Nicaragua in 2012. The students learned about coffee growing and production, visited a Fair Trade grower and became interested in developing a longer-term project. Simultaneously, PC’s School of Business began sponsoring an Entrepreneurship Society while the College’s Feinstein Institute for Public Service and the Smith Hill CDC began convening a local economic development group at the newly-opened Annex. These multiple interests coalesced with the students, the College and the CDC coming together to open Common Grounds Café.
“Restoring Smith Hill”
“Restoring Smith Hill” is a documentary film by J. Henry Smith, ’13 and current MBA student. The film showcases the extraordinary success of the work done by the Smith Hill Community Development Corporation (CDC). The CDC has taken foreclosed houses in the area and turned the blight into safe, affordable housing. Smith decided to document the practical and touching stories surrounding the CDC after witnessing transformation firsthand: Smith's father, Francis Smith, is the CDC’s executive director.
“Restoring Smith Hill” reveals a key element of the CDC’s work: the old homes are not demolished; they are restored, which preserves the historic and architectural character of the neighborhood. The neighborhood may have been established a hundred years ago, but the demographics have changed significantly.
To cultivate feelings of belonging and ownership among residents, the film shows young residents recruited to care for things like tree pits and litter, eliciting appreciation from other residents, and fostering greater engagement and a sense of community. The film also shares intimate profiles of some of the newer residents who have moved into the restored living spaces – their profiles are among the most moving moments of the film.
“Restoring Smith Hill” makes a good case for partnership between the private and public sectors, resulting in optimal outcomes of the investment in neighborhoods and in people.