Doors open at Hammett Court Apartments
Local leaders, along with an impressive turnout of residents, gathered Friday to celebrate the opening of the Hammett Court Apartments. The new building features five apartments for individuals with special needs, and on site will be job training for the new tenants who will also be clients of Bridges Inc.
There are numerous challenges for people with intellectual and development disabilities, and one of the greatest challenges is the lack of affordable housing. According to The Arc, the oldest and largest advocacy group for people with disabilities, the problem has worsened in recent years.
The demand for accessible, affordable housing far outweighs the supply. Studies by Housing Works Rhode Island shows that of the 2,529 year-round housing units in Jamestown, only 11 are considered long-term affordable homes for people with special needs.
Lisa Rafferty, executive director of Bridges, said the large crowd made her realize how many people are in favor of a project like Hammett Court.
“There are a lot of people who showed up today to show us how much they care about the work we do,” she said. “I think that was really important.”
According to Rafferty, the project is important because there are children with developmental disabilities who want to remain in Jamestown as they get older.
“They’ll be able to live in the town they grew up in,” she said, “around the people they have known all their lives. It will be a safe place to live. It will be a place that’s on the bus route. It will be accessible to the places they’ve known all their lives.”
Among those in attendance at the Nov. 22 ribbon cutting was U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse. Whitehouse was quick to point out that it’s his colleague, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, who is the real champion of affordable housing in Congress. According to Whitehouse, he serves as Reed’s “loyal ally and wingman” on the issue.
In his remarks, Whitehouse said it’s important to protect funding that makes projects like Hammett Court possible. He pointed to recent Republican cuts to the Community Development Block Grant, and called for an end to the sequester that has seen reduced spending made to social programs.
“This project is terrific,” Whitehouse said. “It not only provides housing opportunities for people with developmental disabilities, it also integrates them into the community and provides a resource for them to find work and become meaningful participants in our community.”
“And all within walking distance of downtown Jamestown,” he added.
Whitehouse said it is going to become increasingly difficult to fund similar plans. Block grants, which helped fund the Hammett Court project, have been essentially slashed in half.
“The cuts mean a lot less of this,” Whitehouse said. “These are good things, and if you’re going to throw the care of these people back onto their families alone, there are a lot of families who can’t do it. They need support, and that’s what we do for each other as a community.”
State Sen. President Teresa Paiva Weed says every Rhode Islander deserves a safe home they can afford. She said the Hammett Court project is important because it addresses two major issues – affordable housing and job training – and combines them.
“This is a great example of what can be done in other communities as well, providing economic independence for individuals with disabilities and long-term affordable housing,” she said.
State Rep. Deb Ruggiero, a Jamestown resident, was also in attendance. She said it was exciting to have the Hammett Court Apartments in Jamestown.
“This is the kind of affordable housing we need to see throughout Rhode Island. It’s very exciting for Jamestown.”
Ruggiero also offered a quote from Mother Teresa: “We can do no great things. We can only do small things with great love.”
Every member of the Town Council was on hand for the event, as well as several members of the previous council. Council President Kristine Trocki gave credit to the former councilors for their efforts to get the Hammett Court project off the ground.
“We are proud to have the housing here in Jamestown, and to be able to help support affordable housing for developmentally disabled adults,” Trocki said. “We believe the former Town Council deserves a lot of credit for this as well, and we commend their enthusiastic support for this project. We all believe in this mission and we would like to see other opportunities like this arise.”
Richard Godfrey, the executive director of Rhode Island Housing, spoke movingly during his remarks of his own developmentally disabled daughter, Libby. She was only expected to live to the age of 19. She is 25 now, living at home with her parents. Godfrey, who is in his 60s, expressed concern about what would happen to his daughter when he and his wife are no longer able to care for her.
“Thank you on behalf of Libby,” Godfrey said. “As parents, we have our daily lives, and we have to think about their daily lives. As we get older, we worry about where our children will go, and who will take care of them when we’re gone. You want to make sure there is a future for them beyond their future with you.”