In New Haven’s Fair Haven neighborhood, Poplar Street is replete with trash, beer bottles, and abandoned houses with gang symbols sprayed across the walls. But on an adjacent street, Ferry Street, there are freshly painted homes with brand-new siding and trash-free lawns.
NeighborWorks New Horizons — a nonprofit housing developer based in Fair Haven — has taken up the charge to transform some of Fair Haven’s most-troubled streets and homes. The organization, which was started at a grassroots level 16 years ago and is a local branch of a national establishment, currently has 14 developments in five towns in Southern Connecticut, a successful homebuyer seminar program and ambitious plans to redevelop blighted areas into livable neighborhoods.
But while residents in the area join the queue to move into a redeveloped low-income home, more pressing problems facing Fair Haven residents, including securing interim emergency housing, overcoming unemployment and establishing livable communities, have quickly become apparent.
From a street to a community
Fair Haven, a largely Hispanic and black neighborhood a 10-minute drive east from central campus, has traditionally been plagued by persistent crime, poverty and drug problems.
“The people here are nice,” said Tim Protzman, a NeighborWorks employee. But the neighborhood, he said, “is sketchy.”
Selia Mosquera, the executive director of NeighborWorks, said her organization works with local police to redevelop houses in the hopes that the drug and prostitution problems will disappear.
“In areas such as Fair Haven, Westville and West River, our approach is a comprehensive development,” Mosquera said. “We look to a revitalization of a neighborhood.”
In 2006, after a five-year redevelopment project, Ferry Street was transformed from a “vacant lot to a community,” Protzman said. Twenty-four units of housing were added for residents who otherwise would have been unable to afford a market rate mortgage or monthly rent.
Last year, NeighborWorks rehabilitated or repaired 21 rental or owner-occupied units, investing more than $9 million in the New Haven area, according to the organization’s Web site. Their funding comes from several sources, including the city of New Haven, the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, and the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority.
But Protzman, who works with resource development and special projects, emphasized the need to do more than just build homes.
“Just putting people in a home doesn’t always accomplish much,” he said. “We want them to develop themselves and their community.”
Protzman pointed out a visible example of what he called “community building.” Inside one of the rental units, a resident bought curtains and a flower for the common stairwell, signs of personal pride in her home, he said.
Because staff at NeighborWorks said they viewed the Ferry Street project as a success, they are planning similar developments on the adjacent Clay and Poplar streets.
On Clay Street, the units that are slated for construction will be built into mixed-use rental and home ownership. In these two-family homes, a homeowner will receive assistance from the city of New Haven for the down payment and mortgage counseling from NeighborWorks. Then, the homeowner will be able to make a small income by renting out a part of his home to someone seeking a rental unit, Protzman said.
Neighborhoods in need
But while organizations such as NeighborWorks work on the long-term development of blighted areas of Connecticut, other groups task themselves with connecting those in need with emergency shelter and employment resources.
Jon Jenusaitis, site coordinator of National Student Partnerships in New Haven, student-driven nonprofit focused on social services, said he works to help people apply for permanent subsidized housing.
“If people are looking for subsidized housing that means they can’t afford a market rate apartment, but the problem is that all the subsidized housing has long waiting lists,” Jenusaitis said, mentioning a one- to two-year application period. “The recurring challenge is to help them find short-term housing.”
Rachel Marcus ’11 counsels people through NSP on how to apply for housing. She said she sees firsthand how difficult it is for people to afford housing.
“People come in with a Social Security check that gives them $700 a month to live on, and it’s just not enough for them to eat and afford housing,” Marcus said.
Eva Laurano, who lives on disability payments, stays alone in her apartment on Ferry St., one of the units NeighborWorks New Horizons completed in 2006.
“Where I lived before there were too many fights and too many people shooting,” Laurano said, referring to her previous apartment in Fair Haven.
Now, she is paying less for rent than she did at her old apartment, and she describes her living as more comfortable.
“The apartment is clean, the outside is clean and my neighbors are nice people,” Laurano said in broken English. “I’m very happy here, and even the kids are nice.”