HOPKINTON — With ongoing drinking water issues, and more recently, more than half the tenants moving out, problems continue to mount at the Rockville Mill affordable housing project.
In the latest chapter of the building’s unfortunate history, Rhode Island Housing, which administers Section 8 vouchers funded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, has rescinded the building's voucher and distributed individual vouchers to tenants so they can move out. The Section 8 program assists low income, disabled and elderly renters.
The well on the property began to malfunction last fall, producing sediment-laden tap water that was eventually shut off, leaving the tenants without running water. Rhode Island Housing inspected the property and determined that it no longer met HUD requirements.
“We sent inspectors in there on multiple occasions and the majority of the units failed the inspection,” said Christine Hunsinger, deputy director of policy, research and data. “At that point, it was a health and safety issue due to the water conditions, and per HUD regulations, we abated the contract and issued tenant-based vouchers to the tenants.”
Six of the 14 units are still occupied and work on the well, paid for by the mortgage holder, Bonneville Bank of Provo, Utah, is ongoing. The water has been turned back on as the work continues.
Rockville Mill has been on the brink of foreclosure almost since its groundbreaking in 2011. The 172-year-old stone structure, a former rope factory in the village of Rockville, occupies 3.5 acres on Canonchet Road and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Planning for the project began in 2009, when jewelry designer Marek Zamojski proposed renovating the mill to create an eight-unit affordable apartment complex. The building would receive $1.5 million in historic tax credits and a $1.1 million mortgage guaranteed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Hopkinton Planning Board approved the project, which, by then, had grown to 14 units and was estimated to cost $4.18 million.
The problems began the first winter with skyrocketing heating costs. The building is classified as historic, so the developer was not permitted to alter the structure to add insulation and had to rely on expensive propane heating.
As his financial problems mounted, Zamojski left the country, leaving the property in the hands of Bonneville Bank.
A sale in limbo
Negotiations have taken place to sell the building to the Women's Development Corporation, one of the state's largest nonprofit developers. The corporation has expertise in the rehabilitation and transformation of historic buildings into affordable housing.
Dean Harrison, director of real estate at Women’s Development, said his organization was still interested in purchasing the building, but only if the vouchers are restored to the units themselves.
“We’re kind of in a peculiar situation,” he said. “We’re only interested, obviously, if the housing assistance payment contract goes back in place … The units themselves had subsidies attached to the units. So, people move in, people move out — it’s with the unit. What happened was, Rhode Island Housing has canceled that contract with the owner and basically gave the tenants a mobile voucher.”
Hunsinger said her agency remained open to the possibility of selling the building to Women’s Development.
“Rhode Island Housing would be amenable to that and to any other solution,” she said. “Right now, those repairs are being made and that’s the first step in anything happening.”