GATES — Some children dream about being movie stars or sports heroes. Holding a ruler she’s had since fourth grade, Maggie Bringewatt noted that her dreams were of a more practical bent.
“When I was a kid, I always wanted to be an architect,” she said during an interview in her office at Providence Housing Development Corp. Planning a place in which others may live has always attracted her, she said.
Bringewatt, 59, didn’t become an architect — unless one considers the fact that she has framed hundreds of people’s dreams, leading Providence to help build affordable housing for more than 1,000 people throughout the Diocese of Rochester. The independent, not-for-profit corporation is a diocesan affiliate and is located on the grounds of the Pastoral Center. Providence develops, finances and manages housing for individuals and families in the diocese’s 12 counties. Under Bringewatt’s tenure as its executive director, the agency has grown into a well-respected force in affordable housing, doing everything from helping people restore their credit and educating them about homeownership to providing housing for seniors and people with disabilities.
In August, Bringewatt became a senior development consultant to Providence after leaving her position as the agency’s first executive director 11 years after its founding. Her eyes brimmed with tears as she recalled working with diocesan and Providence officials on various housing efforts. Their combined efforts paid off time and again, she noted.
“I think the most satisfying thing is seeing a family or individual settled in an apartment where they have a nice space, where everything works, where there is heat, where there is some sense of community and where there are human-service providers coming in,” she said.
She added that affordable housing is her passion because many low-income people have a hard time finding a decent place to live. She noted, for example, that a person with a disability may be receiving between $650 and $700 monthly from Social Security and can usually only afford to spend about $195 a month on rent.
“What is available for $195 anywhere?” she said.
Her instrumental role in creating affordable housing was recently recognized by the City of Rochester, which gave her its Charles J. Crimi-Pax Humana Award in October. According to a diocesan press release, the award recognizes individuals who exemplify “undaunted dedication to the principles of peace, justice, fairness, freedom and human understanding.”
In a letter to be published in an upcoming Providence newsletter, Jack Balinsky, diocesan director of Catholic Charities and Providence’s board president, and Jane S. Lange, Providence’s interim executive director, praised Bringewatt.
“While others have engaged in loud public debate about the need for affordable housing, Maggie has, in a low-key, behind-the-scenes way made it happen,” they wrote. “Throughout the time we have known Maggie, she has worked tirelessly and effectively for the betterment of this community.”
A 1968 graduate of Syracuse University who also earned her master’s degree in public administration there, Bringewatt was a veteran of the affordable-housing movement before taking the reins at Providence. She’s served in a variety of housing-related positions with such agencies as the Rochester Housing Authority, United Way of Greater Rochester, Genesee Finger Lakes Regional Planning Board, the Urban League and the City of Rochester. As head of Providence, Bringewatt has worked on a variety of housing projects with both private and public funders, as well as various agencies. Balinsky and Lange’s letter credited Bringewatt for many achievements, including helping to revitalize a neighborhood once home to drug dealers to developing housing in areas that were once plagued by deteriorating buildings.
As a Catholic herself, Bringewatt said she enjoyed working with a church-affiliated agency, adding that meeting people at the Pastoral Center involved in other diocesan ministries gave her a broader view of the church.
“I think if everybody had that opportunity, it would go along way to strengthening people’s faith and strengthening the community of the Diocese of Rochester,” she said.