Last week, students from eight student groups delivered a letter to President Levin’s office, urging him to expand Yale’s successful Homebuyer Program to Fair Haven, a predominantly Latino neighborhood that has long been excluded from the list of locations eligible for the program. We have been encouraged by the University’s response of renewed interest in Fair Haven and believe that including that neighborhood is an essential next step for the program.
In 1994, President Levin initiated the Yale Homebuyer Program, which aims to encourage homeownership in New Haven and to revitalize ailing neighborhoods by offering Yale employees up to $25,000 to purchase homes in selected city neighborhoods. As of last week, 578 staff members had purchased homes through the program, accounting for nearly 10 percent of home purchases in the city.
Almost from the start, however, there has been criticism of the locations eligible for the program. Fair Haven was dropped from the list of designated areas in 1996, and since then there have been occasional waves of criticism of its exclusion. Today, Fair Haven remains the only neighborhood contiguous with the University that is excluded from the program. But the current phase of the program expires next month, and many are once again demanding that the University include Fair Haven in the next phase.
We agree with this demand. We give the University, which has put over $13 million toward the program, a lot of credit for initiating and remaining dedicated to such a successful program for nearly a decade. But the initiative is no longer in its pilot stages, and expansion is called for. We are encouraged by statements made by Director of the Office of New Haven and State Affairs Bruce Alexander last week that the University was interested in adding Fair Haven in the next phase. If the University really wants to show commitment to its goals of supporting staff members and helping develop New Haven neighborhoods, it must extend the program to Fair Haven.
In the past, Yale has resisted such an expansion, arguing that the inclusion would be too expensive. It seems to us that the expense would result from a high demand for housing in Fair Haven, and this, indeed, is the very point of the program — to allow those who want to purchase homes to do so and to help stabilize the city’s neighborhoods. We understand that the University’s resources are limited, but Fair Haven, one of the city’s poorest areas, is exactly the type of neighborhood the program should be targeting.
Ample research suggests the many benefits of homeownership. Homeowners reinvest in their homes and neighborhoods, are more involved in local politics, and are likely to live in the same neighborhood for long periods of time. The demand for homes creates livable space, and increased homeownership can increase property values and decrease crime rates, transforming distressed neighborhoods into vibrant ones. That Yale has the potential to do all this while also providing housing opportunities for low-income workers makes Fair Haven’s inclusion a no-brainer to us.
We’ve seen that these types of turnarounds are possible in New Haven. The HOPE VI federal housing grants transformed dilapidated housing in Elm Haven into an award-winning mixed-income housing development. Yale’s Homebuyer Program has the potential to make similar kinds of changes. While it won’t recreate neighborhoods alone or overnight, expanding the program to include Fair Haven is certainly the right step for Yale, and now is the time to take it.