City may ditch plans to upgrade housing

The New Haven Housing Authority may terminate its contract with the developers for the West Rock neighborhood following Friday’s announcement of the city’s unsuccessful application for a $35 million HOPE VI grant.

The team of developers — Telesis Corporation, AECI Renaissance Management Co., Inc. and AVA Associates — contractually can submit an alternative redevelopment plan for West Rock now that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s denial of the HOPE VI revitalization grant application is official.

But housing authority officials said they are not certain whether the developers will design a new redevelopment plan or permanently abandon the project.

“I’m not expecting anything,” Housing Authority Director Robert Solomon said. “I’m expecting to sit down and look at some numbers, talk to different people and make a decision.”

The developers could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Solomon said the authority will spend the next 60 days reviewing the project before deciding how to proceed.

The authority’s numerous options include developing the neighborhood itself or finding a different developer. Authority officials said they will not pursue any other plans while the current agreement exists.

Ending the current contract immediately would cost the authority $200,000. If the developers submit a new master plan for the West Rock neighborhood, the buyout cost would increase to $400,000. But developing a new plan would require the city’s financial support, which appears unlikely.

Without the HOPE VI grant, the development team has previously said, an alternative redevelopment plan would require $8.5 million from the city for improvements to roads and the sewer and water systems.

“A critical factor is the city’s participation,” said Peter Hance, director of planning and redevelopment for the housing authority.

The city does not appear to have the funds for the infrastructure improvements, particularly for a federal public housing project.

“It would be absurd and outrageous to expect the city to fulfill the role of the federal government,” New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said. “We don’t have the resources to do this. It would prevent the city from providing other services.”

The developers’ inability to snag the HOPE VI revitalization grant for New Haven is a major concern for authority officials.

“I’m not sure the Housing Authority wants to contribute land to a developer without the HOPE VI grant,” Solomon said.

Telesis, a California-based nonprofit organization, previously received 10 of 11 HOPE VI grants for projects the company designed.

“In New Haven, Telesis is batting 0 for 2,” Hance said. “Now we must ask the question, what does the developer bring to the table if they can’t get the HOPE VI?”

Even without the revitalization grant, the authority has made progress on West Rock redevelopment.

HUD did award the authority four HOPE VI demolition grants totaling $1.54 million on Friday, and the authority’s “Moving to Work” designation allows it to merge all funds together, providing increased flexibility in project design.

Community involvement also has grown and proven critical to planning the redevelopment.

Formed in 1999, the West Rock Implementation Committee was instrumental in designing the application for the HOPE VI grant. The committee includes nine residents of the neighborhood, two New Haven Housing Authority officials, two New Haven officials, the mayor of Hamden and the president of Southern Connecticut State University. The authority must ratify any of the committee’s initiatives.

“Although we didn’t get the HOPE VI grant, we are far further along than we ever were before,” Hance said. “That’s mainly because of the community’s increased involvement.”

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