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Female Solutions to Housing Need

Women's group builds and manages units for poor families, using a design mothers prefer

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WHAT tickles Cheryl Leary about her new apartment are things like circuit breakers and windows that close. No big deal to a lot of people, but a major improvement over her last residence, which had falling ceilings, drafty windows, and a steep rent that swallowed 80 percent of her income. Last December, Ms. Leary and her six children, ages 6 months to 17 years, moved into a four-bedroom unit in Indian Village, a new low-income housing development in Providence. Like many other residents, she shed the battered furniture she had picked up and started fresh.

Leary proudly points to her new rented bedroom set. ``I'm 33 years old and I never had a bedroom set! I never had anything decent, but I was always trying to do something for myself,'' she says.

For the past decade, the Women's Development Corporation (WDC), a nonprofit group in Rhode Island run by women, has been trying to turn around the lives of low-income mothers by providing housing. Since its formation in 1979, the group has renovated or built 165 units, with another 120 under construction. Indian Village, a cluster of nine clean, brightly painted buildings with 36 units, is one of the developments.

It all started when several women architects in New York and Boston, members of the Women's School of Planning and Architecture, a loose national network of women architects and planners, decided to create an organization that would foster the professional talents of the women in the group, as well as provide housing for poor families.

Two of the three founders, Alma Felix Green, who was involved with antipoverty groups, and Susan Aitcheson, an architect, formed the corporation. They chose to locate in Providence because it was a moderate-size city that didn't have another low-income developer.

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