New Haven may not be able to deliver on a promised revitalization of low and moderate income housing projects as nearly $1 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding is increasingly in question.
The New Haven housing authority plans to use the funding to demolish the Brookside and Eastview Terrace housing projects to make way for new living spaces, New Haven Housing Authority commissioner and Yale Law School professor Robert Solomon said. But according to state statute 86.A, demolition of low and moderate income housing that does not guarantee an exact one-to-one replacement of every demolished unit cannot begin without the approval of the state commissioner of economic and community development. At the same time, Solomon said, the HUD requires the demolition to be completed by Dec. 23, or the funds will have to be returned.
“86.A is a very obscure state statute,” Solomon said. “For many years we thought that the Attorney General only applied it to state–funded projects, and not federally funded ones like Brookside and Eastview.”
Brookside and Eastview are slated to be comprised of public housing, for-sale homes and market-rate rentals.
HUD spokesperson Donna White said the organization is willing to work with the Housing Authority, even if the deadline is not met.
“We are willing to look into various options, such as extending the deadline or recapturing the funds,” she said.
Solomon said that a Department of Economic and Community Development public hearing took place six months ago to determine whether the demolition could begin in Eastview, though no decision has yet been reached. DECD spokesperson James Watson said a ruling is expected soon, but he could not speculate as to when.
Solomon said he does not believe the statute applies to Brookside at all, where, unlike Eastview, the number of housing units is actually predicted to increase. In Rockview, a part of the Brookside site, the number of units will increase sharply from 196 to around 280. But he said permission has not yet been given for demolition to begin at that site either.
Attorney General Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73 said the issue is not so much whether the housing will be replaced, but whether the new constructions will be of the same type and located in the same site.
“I support the goals of the Housing Authority,” he said. “The law should be interpreted in a way that allows this project to happen. We’ll have to work through all the specifics, such as the number of houses that will be constructed and their exact location.”
In the meantime, residents in the Eastview area remain frustrated with the condition of the housing project, Ward 11 Alderman Robert Lee said.
In the past, he said, the housing authority has resorted to repairing the units, which residents insist need to be entirely rebuilt. Lee said many residents have expressed the view that the housing authority had been wasting funds by fixing up the derelict buildings.
“The whole structure needs to be torn down, and separate houses with back yards should be built as soon as possible,” he said. “The people deserve new houses.”