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Tiverton apartments an example for proposed Edgerton School project

Tiverton, R.I. — Melissa Pacheco, a single mother of a 7-year-old daughter, says there is a certain stigma attached to public or subsidized housing because it often conjures images of unsavory characters.

But she counts herself among “the good people on Section 8 that just need help.”

“It’s just a few that lead to that stigma,” she said.

Struggling at the moment to find work, Pacheco has made her home at Bourne Mill Apartments in Tiverton, R.I., for the past seven years.

Unlike the high-rises of the 124-unit Thames River Apartments on Crystal Avenue in New London, Bourne Mill looks like any market-rate apartment complex.

“Most people don’t know this is Section 8. People will ask, 'How can you afford this?'” Pacheco said.

Bourne Mill Apartments was completed in 2009 by Peabody Properties Inc. and the nonprofit Affordable Housing and Services Collaborative Inc. — the same partnership that wants to convert the site of the former Edgerton School in New London into a $40 million affordable-housing complex.

The plan is to move residents there from the Crystal Avenue high-rises.

As the result of a class-action lawsuit, the New London Housing Authority is under a court order to demolish or fully renovate the outdated high-rises and hand over management.

As it does in many of its collaborations, Peabody would co-own and manage the New London complex.

Representatives from the two companies recently provided a tour of the sprawling former textile mill, located on the border of Fall River, Mass., as an effort to illustrate how affordable-housing has evolved and the type of housing they plan to provide for families in New London.

The same company that designed the Bourne Mill renovation project, The Architectural Team Inc., would design the units at the former Edgerton School site.

With its restored wooden floors, chic common areas and attention to historical details, the Bourne Mill received an award for excellence in historic rehabilitation using low-income housing tax credits from the National Housing and Rehabilitation Association.

While the proposed project in New London is not exactly comparable, “it’s a transferrable concept,” said Elizabeth Collins, the vice president of development for Peabody Properties.

Despite the obstacles of a historical renovation, Collins said, many of the units at Bourne Mill have their own entrances — similar to the goal in New London.

Proposed conceptual plans for the New London development show clusters of townhouse-style two- and three-bedroom units with their own entrances surrounding a larger, taller building of one-bedroom apartments with elevators and handicap accessibility, mostly reserved for older residents.

“It’s family housing, and kids in corridors is just not as conducive to making a better family site,” Collins said.

The Bourne Mill is a mixed-income housing complex of 165 units with one-, two- and three–bedroom apartments where most residents are receiving some type of subsidy, either through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Program, or a project-based voucher program where residents like Pacheco pay 30 percent of their income.

Thames River Apartments is federally subsidized, and while the funding source will be altered, Collins said, the goal is a smooth transition where residents will continue to pay 30 percent of their income.

Peabody and Affordable Housing have yet to present a site plan to New London's Planning and Zoning Commission but said they hope to have the process well underway by the end of the year.  

Public records show that Bourne Mills Rental 9 LLC, the name used for the development by Affordable Housing and Peabody, paid $160,503 in property taxes in 2015.

The proposed New London project also would be a tax generator.

While there are similarities, there are also differences between the two projects.

Tiverton is a town of about 15,000, but Bourne Mill Apartments residents said they are more closely connected with Fall River, Mass., an urban town of 88,000 and also formerly a hub of the textile industry. By comparison, New London has a population of about 27,000.

The former Edgerton School on Cedar Grove Avenue is in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The Bourne Mill is somewhat secluded.

The Bourne Mill was a renovation project while the New London project would be built from the ground up. Both strategies present their own challenges, Collins said, but new construction would allow designers to better fit the project to the site.

While there are complaints about the potential for an increase in traffic, noise and crime and a lack of parking options, many opponents in New London cite the small size of the property — 3.3-acres — as the major hurdle.

Peabody and Affordable Housing, however, have made moves to expand the footprint and frontage.

Affordable Housing and Services Collaborative Executive Director Michael Mattos said Friday the partners have purchase agreements with three abutting properties on Cedar Grove Avenue and another on Colman Street.

He did not give specific addresses and said the purchases are contingent on certain factors.

The companies are working with members of the city’s planning department in preparation for submitting plans in the coming months.

It is an overall effort, Mattos said, to try to improve the quality of the site design.

Hoping to alleviate some concerns from nearby residents, Collins said Peabody, with its own management team, stresses on-site property management. The building manager and superintendent will have a presence in the building, she said.

“We’re not looking to just minimize the management presence on the site. We feel overall it helps the asset to be able to spend a little more, or reserve a little more to be prepared to keep it maintained,” Collins said. “We primarily manage for the long run. We don’t look to flip properties.”

Pacheco said for the most part she agrees that management is responsive and friendly and that the complex is clean.

She is advocating, however, for a playground or some sort of children’s space outdoors. Otherwise, she said, it’s a good area to ride bikes and fish at a nearby pond.

Others at the complex say there are many dog owners, which can at times lead to an inordinate amount of dog waste outside when owners do not clean up after their pets.

Shacora Carter, 24, moved to Bourne Mill earlier this year and called it “quiet, secluded and safe.”

She said there is a school nearby for her daughter, people are friendly and there are local retail developments in neighboring Fall River.

The single mother of a 2-year-old moved from a Boston-area shelter and said she is still adjusting to the quiet, clean environment. She said she had entered the shelter when she found out she was pregnant, as a way to get a new start.

She has since obtained her GED and is looking at options for furthering her education.

“It’s better for her. It beats staying in a shelter,” she said, motioning to her daughter, Zyinejah. “I love it.”

g.smith@theday.com

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