New Haven loses out on $35 million HUD grant

Plans to revitalize blighted parts of New Haven were dealt a serious blow Friday when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced that the city will not receive a coveted $35 million HOPE VI revitalization grant for the West Rock neighborhood.

But HUD did award the New Haven Housing Authority four smaller HOPE VI demolition grants totaling $1.54 million.

“It’s a million and a half better than nothing, and thirty-three and a half worse that what we had hoped for,” said Robert Solomon, the authority’s interim executive director and a Yale law school professor.

Solomon said the authority will use the grants to demolish four dilapidated low-income housing developments in New Haven: Riverview, Rockview Circle, Sheffield Manor and Winter Gardens.

“These are four essential foundation stones for our comprehensive plan to transform our housing portfolio,” said Steve Yandle, the authority’s commissioner and the chairman of the West Rock Implementation Committee.

But housing authority officials, who consider the redevelopment of the West Rock neighborhood their number one priority, will have to find funding elsewhere — HUD awarded the final HOPE VI revitalization grant to Philadelphia Friday.

“That is the final grant,” said a HUD spokeswoman, who withheld her name because of a HUD policy. “New Haven will not receive one.”

HOPE VI revitalization grants allow for the replacement of blighted public housing apartment buildings with townhouse layouts. Each housing authority has considerable influence on their project’s design.

“That’s one of the hallmarks of the HOPE VI project,” said Suzanne Miller, the director of the HOPE VI project for the New Haven Housing Authority. “There’s a lot of flexibility in developing the project.”

HUD awarded over $491 million this year in 15 HOPE VI revitalization grants, with a maximum of $35 million per grant, the HUD official said. New Haven was one of 66 municipalities competing for the funding.

New Haven last received a HOPE VI revitalization grant in 1993, the first year of the HUD program. The $45 million grant has funded the Dixwell neighborhood’s Monterey Place housing complex, currently in the second of four construction phases.

The city’s HOPE VI revitalization grant application this year called for replacing the 492 housing units at the Rockview Circle and Brookside housing complexes in the West Rock neighborhood with 470 mixed-income units.

Miller said that the authority is still working on a back-up plan for the West Rock area, but that funding the project would require eliminating other programs. The demolition grant for Rockview Circle should ease the financial burden slightly.

Local politicians point to the authority’s new “Moving to Work” contract as a reason for awarding the demolition grants to New Haven. The “Moving to Work” status, which demonstrates HUD’s confidence in the authority and allows all funding to be pooled together and applied toward any project, should further reduce budgetary constraints for the West Rock project.

“A better run Housing Authority has earned HUD’s confidence,” New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said. “The result is a better place to live for public housing residents and a better neighbor in our neighborhoods.”

Demolition of the four sites will proceed immediately, Solomon said.

Tentative redevelopment plans exist for all sites, although the future of Winter Gardens is most clear. On Oct. 31, HUD awarded Community Builders Inc., a local nonprofit organization, $3.8 million for construction of 42 housing units for the elderly on the Winter Gardens site.

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