As spring returns and the ground thaws, the New Haven Housing Authority is preparing for another year of construction and renovations.

In March the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development informed the housing authority that it had approved its application for a $20 million Hope VI grant for its Quinnipiac Terrace site.

The housing authority is also proceeding with work on its West Rock complex and four elderly communities.

The Housing Authority will construct 170 units for the development in Fair Haven, housing authority Director Stephen Yandle said. These units, to be built at a total cost of $54 million, will replace the existing superblock construction.

There will be 28 duplexes constructed on the site, Yandle said. The owner will live in half of the building and rent the other, which Yandle said would provide “stability to ownership,” since rent received should provide a constant source of income to pay for the owner’s mortgage. Yandle said the city of New Haven has unusually low homeownership; only 30 to 35 percent of residences are owner-occupied.

The director said work on the site should begin soon.

The housing authority is working to develop the site in association with Elm City Congregations Organized, or ECCO — a 10-year-old group of 23 churches and community organizations. Sam Dexter, an associate minister with the Church of the Redeemer on Whitney Avenue, said his group’s involvement was based on the work of the Nehemiah Homes Program, which has built thousands of affordable houses in Brooklyn and the Bronx.

ECCO received pledges for financial support for its affordable housing program from various faith-based sources and then turned to the city, Dexter said.

“We came to the city saying, ‘Look, we already raised $2 million in development financing. Now what can you do for us?'” Dexter said.

Dexter said ECCO’s involvement made the grant more attractive to HUD because the government was looking for proposals including faith-based organizations. Additionally, ECCO’s previous fund raising allowed the group to leverage millions of extra dollars in financing.

Dexter said the Hope VI program has been rightfully criticized in the past because new construction frequently decreases available public housing.

But he said the 160 units currently occupied at Quinnipiac Terrace will be replaced as part of the plan at a 1-1 ratio. ECCO is aiding this effort by funding the site’s market-race housing so Hope VI grant money will not have to be devoted to the task.

Work is continuing on the West Rock site and on four elderly communities. The West Rock complex, which failed to receive a Hope VI grant in the past, is instead receiving funding from other sources. Yandle said the housing authority is working with implementation committees to form a consensus on the plans.

The overhaul of the elderly communities does not involve tearing down or creating new buildings. Instead, the renovations are mainly on the interior, including rewiring, painting and installing new air-conditioning.

Quinnipiac Terrace may have received its grant just in time. HUD’s fiscal 2004 budget would end the Hope VI program. New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who is president of the National League of Cities, will be at the forefront of the battle to keep the program running, said Jim Foye, DeStefano’s spokesman.

“Its helped a lot of cities and municipalities across the country,” Foye said.