Historic Homes Get Affordable Face Lift

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

THE latest endeavor of the Women's Development Corporation (WDC), a nonprofit housing provider based in Rhode Island, is to join with the Providence Preservation Society in meeting two needs at once: affordable housing and preservation of endangered Victorian and colonial homes in the inner city. Because the standards for preservation are so high - requiring, for example, that Victorian houses each be painted five different house colors - it's expensive. And besides, ``Who's going to spend $300,000 to live in the ghetto?'' says Alma Felix Green, president of WDC.

``So what happens in the Eastern seaboard, all the nice Victorian homes in the inner city burn because the enabling programs can't meet the standards preservationists require,'' Ms. Green says.

The low-income housing suppliers and the preservationists have had their own separate agendas until now. But with the downshift in the economy, there's less money around for either group. It's forced them to join forces.

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The Providence Preservation Society had the opportunity to buy seven historical houses in one neighborhood and hired WDC to take charge of the rehab and management of the rental properties. Out of this cooperation will come 20 low-income units in historical, turn-of-the-century structures.

``We wanted to provide housing for people who lived in the neighborhood, primarily renters,'' says Clark Schoettle, executive director of the Providence Preservation Society Revolving Fund. ``We were concerned that if we tried to sell to people who could afford it, the people would be substantially different from those who live in the neighborhood, and it could cause gentrification and displacement.''

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