Church and city join forces to help poor

In New Haven, housing concerns extend beyond the boundaries of Yale University’s campus. While Yale has struggled to come up with an adequate solution to its rooming situation, New Haven residents and city officials have quietly celebrated modest but substantial housing improvements in one of the city’s poorest areas.

A collaborative effort between the city of New Haven and Beulah Land Development Corporation, a non-profit, faith-based organization in Dixwell, has resulted in the construction of the Orchard Street Townhouses and a recent ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the completion of the $3.2 million project’s first phase. Officials hope the 10 new homes, available with a $15,000 city-funded subsidy to low-income buyers, will give residents a stake in the historically blighted Dixwell neighborhood.

In the early 1990s, the Dixwell neighborhood, an area just north of Payne Whitney Gymnasium, suffered from extreme urban blight. Dilapidated and abandoned buildings interspersed among multifamily complexes created an unwelcoming atmosphere for prospective homeowners and new businesses.

In the middle of this rundown neighborhood is the Beulah Heights First Pentecostal Church. Eight years ago, after witnessing the area’s decline for some time, the church’s pastor, Bishop Theodore L. Brooks, had a vision from the pulpit.

“We were in service, and all of a sudden the pastor said that he had had a word from God,” said Joseph J. Teal, a member of the church, “and the word said for the congregation to get up and march around the street.”

The nearly 250 parishioners marched around Orchard Street seven times — just as the Israelites marched around Jericho, Teal said — in a symbolic reclamation of neighborhood.

But Brooks intended for his vision to guide the community beyond mere symbolism, so he and his brother formed Beulah Land Development Corp.

“As a church, we wanted to make a clean, affordable, safe place for people to live,” Brooks said, adding that he began developing the corporation because the church alone could not revitalize the surrounding area.

Beulah Land Development Corp. then obtained funding from New Haven, the State Department of Economic and Community Development and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to bring 20 affordable housing units to Dixwell and further renovations.

With the help of the funds, Beulah Corp. was able to acquire 60 vacant units on Orchard and Munson streets, which were torn down to make room for the five duplexes now making up the Orchard Street Townhouses. In Phase II, which will start this spring, five additional duplexes will be built in the adjacent lot.

The homes are meant for first-time buyers with low to median incomes.

“We didn’t want people having to pay $80,000 to $100,000 for a nice house,” Brooks said. “We thought that was too much.”

A spokesman for Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said the city will supply each of the buyers with $15,000 in soft costs for the $69,500 homes, thus cutting prices to $54,000 per house. The city hopes to attract homeowners to a neighborhood where an astonishing 86 percent of housing is renter-occupied.

“The strength of our city lies in the strength of our neighborhoods, and homeownership is crucial in maintaining that strength,” DeStefano said at the Feb. 14 ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new townhouses.

To the members of the Beulah Corp., it is God’s strength that has made the Orchard Street Townhouses project possible — and they believe his work is far from done.

“What we in fact did was celebrate the manifestation of chapter one only,” said Teal, who is also chairman of the board for Beulah Land Development Corp.’s board. “The story is going to continue.”

Comments