City officials and community members hope a new public housing complex will build a sense of collaboration between Hamden and residents in the West Rock neighborhood.
Last month, construction began on a new housing complex close to both West Rock and Hamden, which the New Haven Housing Authority hopes will stimulate socioeconomic connections between residents in the isolated area on the Northwesternern edge of the city and the broader New Haven and Hamden communities. As housing foundations go up for the new Brookside public housing complex, the New Haven Housing Authority, West Rock community leaders and the New Haven city government are redeveloping the complex and in the process revitalizing the neighborhood around the Brookside complex.
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Housing Authority officials said they hope to draw tenants to Brookside by offering more of a community setting than other housing projects.
The new complex will look more like a neighborhood than a “stereotypical housing development” and promote a greater sense of resident ownership, self-sufficiency and community, Housing Authority Executive Director Karen DuBois-Walton ’89 said.
The complex is also different from the old publically owned housing complex because it is publically and privately owned.
The negotiation process is not new — supporters began negotiations for the project about a decade ago, before the old complex was razed in 2008.
Contractors and West Rock residents are currently in the process of constructing the first 101 units of rental housing and have poured the foundations for the 20 home ownership units, which are slated to be finished by February 2012, DuBois-Walton said.
The next phase of construction of more rental housing will likely begin this fall, she added.
The Housing Authority has allocated $45 million in funding for Brookside. Dubois-Walton said funding for Brookside has come from federal, state and local governments as well as from private equity from selling of low-income tax credits.
While the West Rock community has voiced support for the proposal, Dubois-Walton said it may face resistance from the community.
“Residents in Hamden were concerned about the value of their properties [because of fear of crime in Brookside],” she said. “The fence [they erected] cuts off Brookside from Hamden’s commercial area.”
She added that the fence is a “major stumbling block” to connect the housing complex to the other communitities.
Still, Ward 30 Alderman Darnell Goldson said there is no clear opposition to the construction of Brookside because it is in an isolated area.
The Housing Authority, Mayor John DeStefano and Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson have discussed tearing down the fence on Wilmot Avenue that separates Brookside from Hamden after the Complex completed, DuBois-Walton said.
While professor of architecture Alan Plattus ’76 said he recognizes the accomplishment of reconstructing the Brookside Complex, he said he is skeptical about its sustainability given its isolation from the rest of New Haven.
“It is weakly connected to the rest of the city and the region. The problem is that people will struggle to access the facilities and opportunities of the rest of the city. Compared to traditional New Haven neighborhoods, [the complex] is very isolated.”
To augment the housing plan, the Housing Authority recently proposed the program Housing and Urban Development CARES, which will submit their proposal to the federal Housing and Urban Development department this spring, which will provide incentives for families to use the services of the New Haven Housing Authority and would require families to move out of Brookside in seven years.
Housing and Urban Development is an executive department that provides grants for housing development initiatives.
West Rock resident Yul Watley has been involved in the creation of the new Brookside complex since its inception a decade ago. Watley, who owns a construction business that is working on the Brookside redevelopment, and other West Rock tenant representatives petitioned Housing and Urban Development for a grant to allow them to start their own businesses and receive business training from the New Haven Housing Authority.
DuBois-Walton said plans for the Brookside project were slowed by the economic downturn but are now benefited by stimulus funds from the Obama administration.
“We had a financing model that worked but low-income [housing] tax credits, [a federal tax credit for affordable housing investments,] went from $1 to $.69 during the economic crisis; now they are selling for roughly $.83,” DuBois-Walton said.
In a further move to ease the re-entry of residents into the neighborhood, the Housing Authority purchased a property at 122 Wilmot Road where Yale-New Haven Hospital will likely provide medical services and commercial activity, Dubois-Walton added, because low income Brookside residents will need access to jobs and social services.
“We are trying to show [Housing and Urban Development] that we can bring the residents of Brookside to a degree of stability that they can live on their own,” West Rock resident Honda Smith said.
She said that the West Rock community is showing the national Urban Development department community involvement through initiatives ranging from karate to ‘off the block, on the clock” programs.”
Residents praised the process so far, saying the Housing Authority has involved the community in the negotiation process and hired local residents for the reconstruction, which is a federal requirement.
The housing authority will hold a community forum on April 12 for West Rock residents interested in applying for homeownership.