WESTERLY — Citing a link between having a decent place to live and health, Westerly Hospital on Thursday announced a $50,000 grant to South County Habitat for Humanity. The hospital also pledged “sweat equity” from staff members who will assist the agency with renovation projects.
“Our work goes beyond the four walls of the hospital. We’re excited to partner with South County Habitat for Humanity, it’s such a great link to our work because housing stability clearly has an impact on the health of our community,” said Patrick Green, president and chief executive officer of Westerly Hospital.
Green and other hospital staff members joined with personnel from South County Habitat for Humanity, and residents in a house the agency owns on Pierce Street in the town’s North End, to announce and celebrate the gift.
The need for affordable housing in Westerly is real, said Colin Penney, South County Habitat for Humanity executive director. “It’s no secret as you walk around Westerly why so many people want to live here with its beautiful beaches, delicious food, vibrant downtown and great community atmosphere, but with that comes some challenges, and here in Westerly the cost of housing is one of those,” Penney said.
The median rent for a two-bedroom apartment is over $1,300 per month, which requires a salary of $54,000 per year to be “barely affordable,” he said. The median price of a house is over $300,000, which requires a salary of $75,000 per year to be “barely affordable,” he said.
Habitat for Humanity builds and rehabilitates houses and subsidizes loans to individuals who would not qualify for loans from traditional lending institutions. The unit on Pierce Street, half a duplex, is expected to to be sold in the spring or summer. The buyer will likely pay $750 per month for taxes, insurance and principal on the house, or about half of what would be needed in the traditional loan market, Penney said. Habitat built the house in 2005.
The hospital’s involvement will help the agency accomplish its mission, Penney said.
“We’re very excited to have not only the financial commitment but to have the commitment to bring staff and the administration to wield a paintbrush, swing a hammer, put down flooring and get dirty, and help our staff, our volunteers, and our homeowners come together to achieve the dream of home ownership,” Penney said.
The local agency currently serves 56 families in the county, including seven in Westerly. It expects to acquire a new property on Knight Street in the near future, Penney said. Worldwide, the organization serves 1.9 million families.
For Stephen M. Greene, chairman of the Westerly Hospital board of directors, the event was an opportunity to spend time in a neighborhood he knows well.
“My grandparents owned a home right around the corner here for some 90 years and they raised their 10 children there, so to me this place represents nothing but a lot of cousins and a lot of good friends,” Greene said.
The hospital’s ability to be an active participant in the community was helped by its affiliation with L+M Healthcare and Yale New Haven Health, Greene said. Westerly affiliated with Yale New Haven in late 2016. L+M owned Westerly Hospital from June 2013 until the affiliation with Yale.