City seeks neighborhood grant

Sen. Chris Murphy’s visit to the New Haven neighborhood Farnam Courts called atten- tion to its need for federal funding support.
Sen. Chris Murphy’s visit to the New Haven neighborhood Farnam Courts called atten- tion to its need for federal funding support. Photo by Joyce Xi.

After newly sworn-in Sen. Chris Murphy toured a chronically violent New Haven public housing development last week, the city’s efforts to revitalize the neighborhood have gained renewed attention.

The neighborhood, Farnam Courts, located across Interstate 95, near the intersection of Hamilton Street and Grand Avenue, is a development of 240 one-, two- and three-bedroom homes for families with children. Built in the 1940s, the neighborhood has become one of New Haven’s most violent areas. Hoping to change that, the Housing Authority of New Haven has applied for a Choice Neighborhood grant — used for neighborhood revitalization — from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, for which it has been rejected twice before.

“The Choice Neighborhood grant program is highly competitive, but redeveloping Farnam Courts is a worthy project,” U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro said in a Thursday email to the News. “Awarding the funds would help revitalize not just Farnam Courts and its residents, but also the surrounding area, which would be a positive step for the whole city.”

In its $30 million Choice Neighborhood proposal for Farnam Courts, the Housing Authority of New Haven is seeking to revamp the area entirely, turning it into a mixed-income community with a combination of owned and rented homes. The proposal, if implemented, would reduce the number of neighborhood units to 160.

Residents displaced by the demolition of their current homes would have the option of moving back once the new homes in the neighborhood were completed, New Haven Housing Authority Chief Karen DuBois-Walton told the New Haven Independent earlier this month. Roughly 20 percent of residents have moved back after similar projects in the past, while the rest move on to other locations, Dubois-Walton said.

Choice Neighborhood grants, which are awarded by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, attempt to “transform distressed neighborhoods and public and assisted projects into viable and sustainable mixed-income neighborhoods,” according to HUD’s website. They were first awarded in 2010.

“They’re looking not just to revitalize the housing itself,” HUD spokeswoman Rhonda Siciliano said. “They’re looking at the neighborhood as a whole, making sure housing is linked up with jobs, transportation and good schools.”

The grants are awarded through a competitive application process with multiple rounds. The program is divided between two distinct sets of grants: planning and implementation. Planning grants are awarded to cities to help them design neighborhood revitalization projects, while implementation grants are awarded for the completion of projects already planned. In fiscal year 2012, HUD awarded planning grants to 17 communities, totaling $4.95 million, and implementation grants to four communities, totaling $109 million. New Haven’s proposal is for an implementation grant.

Additional funding from private investors and local community members, which totaled $393 million in 2012, enhances implementation grants.

Siciliano declined to comment on the specifics of why New Haven’s proposal was not chosen the previous two times the city has applied, saying only, “there’s a lot of competition for these grants.”

The Housing Authority of New Haven did not return request for comment.

In 2006, New Haven rebuilt Quinnipiac Terrace, which had previously suffered from similar chronic crime and violence as Farnam Courts, with a HOPE VI grant from the federal government, the predecessor of Choice Neighborhood grants. Murphy also visited Quinnipiac Terrace last week, which has been successfully transformed into a mixed-income neighborhood.

After 2010 earmark reforms made inserting money into federal bills for local projects by senators and congressmen more difficult, municipalities increasingly have relied on established federal programs, like Choice Neighborhood grants. As a result, congressional delegations from states with municipalities seeking the grants have frequently found themselves using leverage behind the scenes to influence grant proposals.

Speaking to Mayor John DeStefano Jr., DuBois-Walton and reporters last week, Murphy vowed to use his leverage in Washington to help the project.

“It’s not going to be a light lift,” Murphy said. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”

Murphy did not say what specific steps he intended to take. His office did not return multiple requests for comment.

The office of Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 confirmed that it had reached out to the Housing Authority of New Haven to offer support for the Farnam Court application but did not say what other steps, if any, it had taken.

Cities awarded implementation grants in the past three years are Cincinnati, Ohio; San Antonio, Texas; Seattle, Wash.; and Tampa, Fla.

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