Three blocks west of the Yale School of Medicine campus in the upper Hill neighborhood, where abandoned lots are not uncommon, a peculiar brand of graffiti covers nearly every house on the street.
The words are red, seemingly stenciled, and scrupulously sprayed onto the plywood covering the windows and doors of 10 houses on this short stretch of Asylum Street. Nearly uniform in print, they say, “Mayor’s Idea of a Livable City,” “Do It Right, Choose a New Site,” and “I Want My Home Back.”
But it was not drugs or crime that drove residents away from these once-occupied homes. It was New Haven’s 10-year, $900 million plan to rebuild its schools, an otherwise welcome event for residents except that for several of them, the new Prince/Welch Annex School will be built on an eight-acre plot of land where their homes now stand. City officials have said the beginning of construction is imminent, but a handful of residents are continuing to resist, accusing the city of offering them insufficient compensation for their homes and of discriminating against the lower income neighborhood.
In the conflict’s most recent development, the group Save the Upper Hill Now has hired a lawyer, just as the city begins to install fencing around the houses it is preparing to demolish.
“It happened so fast,” said 75-year-old Arlease Edwards, whose house at 18 Asylum St. is on the land sought by the city. “I got disgusted with the whole thing.”
Edwards’ home, painted in shades of pink and grey, is near the end of the block and hers is one of the last to not be boarded up. She is dissatisfied with the price the city has offered for her home of seven years and has not yet moved out, but concedes that her home will soon no longer be hers.
“I feel bad about it, but there’s nothing I can do about it because my house is gone,” Edwards said.
The city has already acquired more than half of the 61 properties located on the site. Carlos Torre, the president of the New Haven Board of Education, said the next step for residents displeased with the city’s compensation offers is to take their cases to court.
“I don’t think that it’s going to be too difficult to see that they’re right and they probably have the justification to get more money for their land,” Torre said.
In a meeting last month, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. spoke with concerned residents but told them the city would not consider moving the project to another site. City officials have said they have already spent considerable time and resources on this project and that residents have had several opportunities in the past to voice their opinions about the plan.
But Ruth Drews, the pastor of Resurrection Lutheran Church in the Hill and a chairwoman of Save the Upper Hill Now, said the residents would continue to resist the city’s plans. Drews lambasted the city’s move to install fences around the houses that have already been boarded up.
“It’s so insulting and assaultive,” Drews said.