The East Greenwich Housing Authority usually operates in relative obscurity, but a conflict between the federally-funded agency and , which uses its space free of charge, could bring it more attention.
London Bridge has operated a daycare center at Marlborough Crossings, a cluster of public housing units located between Marlborough, London, and Duke streets in downtown East Greenwich.
Recently, the EGHA asked London Bridge for three changes in their relationship. First, it said it would require a signed lease — up until now, there had been no written lease. Second, it told London Bridge it would have to move out of housing space the EGHA let the center expand into several years ago. Third, it required that 40 percent of the child-care center’s clients be EGHA tenants.
The first two requirements had been under discussion for a couple of years, according to Marsha Sullivan, EGHA executive director. The third requirement grew out of board discussions about the housing authority’s relationship with the nonprofit London Bridge.
“We wanted to see more of our tenants using the child care,” said Sullivan. London Bridge currently offers daycare to two EGHA children and two Section 8 children. To reach 40 percent, the center would have to enroll about 18 EGHA and Section 8 children, based on current enrollment.
“It was shocking,” said London Bridge director Janet Kenney, of the 40 percent enrollment requirement. “It essentially closes us down.”
Kenney said London Bridge cares for two children from the only two families at Marlborough Crossings with preschool-age children. “That’s 100 percent” of that population, she said.
Whether or not there are enough other EGHA families with preschool-age children in need of London Bridge’s services was not clear Wednesday. Sullivan estimated the housing authority probably had about 100 families with children, but many of those children could be school age. In a statement to the Town Council in March, Kenney said she wasn’t sure EGHA had enough preschool-age children to make up the 40 percent requirement.
For Sullivan, the request focuses EGHA on its core mission: to serve its tenants. And since most of the children at London Bridge are not EGHA tenants, it made their course clear, she said.
But for Kenney, that actions by EGHA made little sense.
“We’ve always been in collaboration with them,” she said. “It’s been wonderful having that space. Our mission is to have all families regardless of income be able to access affordable, quality child care and education.”
When HUD provided money for Marlborough Crossings, the downstairs space at 157 Duke St. was designated as a “community center.” From the beginning, in 1994, the space was given over to London Bridge. Eventually, London Bridge gained use of the upstairs too — the space it now needs to return to EGHA. London Bridge owns the train station building across Duke Street from the EGHA property and it divides its program between the two spaces. While it could consolidate, moving London Bridge completely over to the train station building would require shrinking its offerings and laying off several workers, Kenney said.
She said 65 percent of her students were in the low-income to extremely-low-income categories, as defined by the federal Housing and Urban Development department and that about half the children who attended London Bridge were from East Greenwich.
The EGHA’s original deadline was June 30. London Bridge has been given a 60-day extension, but Kenney said she wasn’t sure they’d be able to find a downtown relocation spot. That’s necessary if they are to retain the $40,000 a year in Community Development Block Grant funding that helps support the sliding pay scale offered to clients. Kenney said they were the only child-care center in the area that gets CDBG funds.
“I’d like to know what better use of the community space would there be,” she said.
Sullivan said she has a few ideas, including offering after-school programs and educational programs for parents. She questioned the need for a child-care center there and wondered whether or not a real study was done at the time Marlborough Crossings was built to figure out the best use of the community center space.
“I think the board members are doing what the Town Council appointed them to do — they’re putting the housing program first,” said Sullivan.