The Rainville is a 20 year old apartment building in Springfield, located at 32 Byers Street. It was started by a collection of social service agencies, including Open Door, as well as activist groups, housing organizations and the support of anyone who could offer it. To be eligible to get in, you must qualify as homeless according to the McKinney Act, which is more complicated than one might think.
The McKinney Act states:
You must have spent one night in a place unsuitable for human habitation (like a car, outdoors, or an E.R.) To read more about the McKinney Act, click here.
Some basic facts about the Rainville:
What is the Rainville?
The Rainville is an apartment building at 32 Byers St. in downtown Springfield. It was designed and implemented by a combination of HAP, HUD, local religious and social justice leaders with the idea of providing permanent, affordable and sustainable housing for the local homeless community.
From the old tenants association website:
This building project (the renovation of 32 Byers Street) was started by a group of non-profit and anti-poverty agencies and people in the early 1990’s. By 1996 they were renting out the units, all of which include a room with a kitchenette for sleeping and other activities and a separate bathroom and closet.
The units are efficiency apartments, beds are provided and the rent is based on income and the generally accepted affordable income percentages.
Who is eligible?
Folks who are currently homeless or at risk of being homeless. Homeless verification can be obtained in a letter from a program, hospital, treatment center, shelter, social worker or from the individual, themselves. There is a form attached to the application that explains this in more details (see below for an application).There is no minimum income required to apply.
What is the role of the Wildflower Alliance in the Rainville?
We offer peer support, tenancy preservation supports, and are the first step in the application process.
How do I apply?
- The Rainville is not a program, transitional housing or sober house.
- There are house rules, which would look familiar to most lease agreements for an apartment.
- People are expected to be able to take care of their units and themselves.
- Getting in can take some time and there is a wait list.
Some Rainville History from Charlie Knight
Over 20 years ago, Michaelann Bewsee saw a notice that a building was going up for sale, just as the government was trying to straighten out the Savings and Loan Fiasco. She told Keven Noonan about it, and they also contacted the Anti-Poverty agency for the city, then Called the Springfield Action Commission. “Buddy” Langford, then the Executive Director of SAC, worked with his board – (they were the “pass-through” agency) – and Keven Noonan put in some of his own money. A group was formed, called Rainville Associates and that group obtained the property from SAC and developed it and then sold it to 32 Byers Street, Inc.
By March of 1996, the ribbon had been cut, and by June over half the house had tenants in the place. Ms. Foster was the first “social worker” that spent part of her time here and part at SAC. When it came time to consider renewing her contract, the board of directors declined to do so. We had found out that most of our tenants were going to Open Door Social Services on School Street about a block or so away.
We asked if we could contract with them for these services, and because we were thinking of doing this, Keven Noonan stepped down as Board of Directors President. We did contract with Open Door, and for many years ran in the red, because we felt social services were important when the government did not think so, and HUD funds were being spent for that.
About 20 years later, social services for formerly homeless tenants are “best practices”, and we can take pride in sensing that our people needed such services. After the Southern Middlesex Opportunity Council (SMOC) took over the operations of Open Pantry, of which Open Door is a part, and the city took over the funding for the Open Door program, we had less of a happy time with the two directors of Open Door and felt we might best move to a more peer-oriented social services component. Hence we gave notice to Open Pantry that we would not need the services of Open Door, and contracted with the Recovery Learning Community for such peer-to-peer services.
The original idea was that people would get a solid footing here and move on to other places. We also hoped that a core goup of people could be found that had been homeless to help us run the daily operations of the Rainville but until that time, which we hand anticipated being between 10 and 15 years, we would contract with Home City Housing to provide such Property Management Services.
Very few people are still here from those first days, partly because we are so near the Springfield Technical Community College campus, and partly because we are project-based Section 8 housing (for all but 4 “home” units), and the wait time for a “mobile” or “Tenant Based” Section 8 voucher is about 18-26 years. One person just got his this year and moved out before August.
Another person, who moved out about 2006 or 2007 had children and got custody of them again. Her name is Diane, and she was a co-signer of the suit and petition that went to court and paved the way for Ward Representation in this city. Diane improved her life and I saw her daughter withing the year, who has a child of here own now, and she said Diane was back “home” with relatives. Diane is an example of how this place is supposed to work. She got on her feet, worked with Arise for Social Justice and some other groups, was active in the city, and got her children back. Sometimes two or three of us would walk with Diane when she brought her children back to her estranged husband, partly to provide safety, and partly so Diane would have some one to converse with on the walk back. In the first few years Charlie Knight was here, we had Spring and Fall “clean ups” and worked with MASSPIRG on some things and with SAC on other things. We also formed a “crime watch”, and one of our tenants ran for the board of directors of the Springfield Action Commission as a “low income” board member. We often went Christmas Caroling and sometimes had Advent Wreath lighting services in one of our tenant’s room.
- At one time 4 or 5 people were attending college at Springfield Technical Community College, and traveled by bus up to U. Mass.
- One of our Resident Managers found employment as an interpreter as the Holyoke Hospital.
- Two people have been on the board of directors from the beginning – some of our past board members have been architects or involved in finance, and a past board President used to be on the flight crew of Air Force One.
- One of our tenants helped to form an Organic Community Garden over on School Street.
- One resident applied and was granted an internship one summer at the Administration on Ageing making web pages.
- One of our tenants became a “poll worker” for the city’s election commission. He moved on to another location but still works at the poles for this area.
I would be happy to answer any questions and maybe you can get a better “feel” for the people here that have gone through so much and have felt endangered, often when they had lost the ability to turn the key and return “home”. We provide a place for them to once again start to feel secure and move on to look for other and better housing than a SRO (Single Room Occupancy) apartment. It was Keven Noonan, then Executive Director of Open Pantry Community Services, that fought for a bathroom and a kitchenette of our own for each tenant, so they could see how a real apartment could be.
Many of our people from time to time have sought “professional services” to “deal with” various “issues” that might have caused them to become homeless or came as a result of trying to stay alive while homeless. Some of our tenants have attended and became members of the Armoury Quadrangle Civic Association, even going so far as to become a member of a committee or even on the board of directors of that group. Many of our tenants have also attended the Massachusetts Career Development Institute and learned skills for good paying jobs in solid fields of labor.We have accomplished much, and hope to do more in the next decade.
One of our goals of the past 5 years has been to broaden the Board of Directors, have the board be more representative of the population of this area, and also have the involvement of those people with special skills that can assist this building in doing the best it can to heal the hurting people (the homeless) that we draw our tenants from.
Blessings, Charlie Knight