Collaborations between church officials and law students may be rare, but a recent partnership between Yale Law School and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church has made a new low-income senior housing project a possibility.

Construction on an 18-unit apartment complex for low-income seniors will start today at 120 Goffe St. The $3.2 million project, expected to be completed by next November, is part of St. Luke’s effort to revitalize the area immediately surrounding the church in the Dixwell neighborhood — a predominantly low-income neighborhood which lines Dixwell Avenue north of downtown.

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Carla Weil, executive director of the Greater New Haven Community Loan Fund, the interim lender for the project, said the project is unique because it involves a community group — St. Luke’s Episcopal — in a neighborhood revitalization effort.

An abandoned auto-parts store that stood on the site was demolished earlier this year to make way for the project. St. Luke’s also owns the site of a Papa John’s restaurant in the area.

Associate Vice President of the Office of New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93 said the completed building will complement and add to the renaissance of the Dixwell neighborhood.

“The St. Luke’s development will create an attractive building at a key neighborhood corner and replace a dilapidated building that had become an eyesore,” he said.

But Ward 22 Alderman Rev. Drew King said while Yale’s steps into the neighborhood — such as the construction of the Dixwell Rose Center and the possible construction of new residential colleges in the area — have benefited residents, much remains to be done to improve neighborhood conditions.

“There’s quite a few things,” King said. “There’s a lot of missing gaps to fill.”

Two years ago, St. Luke’s community revitalization group, the St. Luke’s Development Corporation, applied for funding from HUD under the Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program, said Jason Navarino LAW ’07, the director of the law students participating in the project.

Navarino said he had worried the application would not be approved because of intense competition.

“The application came in at the last minute but [somehow] got the preliminary approval,” he said.

David Berto, a professional consultant for the project, said only two other Section 202 projects were awarded in the state that year despite a need for low-income senior housing in New Haven.

“The demand is overwhelming, and we’re seeing interest already when we haven’t even started building,” Berto said. “We’re thrilled that it’s underway because the building is an important addition to the neighborhood in providing much needed housing for the elderly.”

Berto said he expects to receive at least 80 applications for the 18 units in the complex. The applicants will have to meet the federal guidelines for low-income housing by demonstrating that they earn less than 50 percent of the area’s average income.

Navarino said unlike many senior housing developments, the building will not offer assisted-living services, though residents will receive help with transportation. The facility will also be exclusively for seniors, in contrast to other housing projects that mix seniors with younger low-income residents, whose lifestyles are often incompatible with those of the elderly, he said.

Yale Law School’s Community and Economic Development clinic was brought on board to help out with complex legal procedures — from filling grant applications to advising SLDC’s board members on aspects of the proposed construction, Navarino said. The law clinic helped SLDC acquire the property from the previous owner and obtain a mortgage from the Greater New Haven Community Loan Fund in 2005, he said. Navarino said they also assisted in the initial closing with HUD in September 2006 and the selection of the demolition company and general contractors.

Berto said the law clinic’s work was valuable and creative.

“They tracked down and coordinated a lot of the HUD-required details themselves and provided all the legal work from the beginning,” he said.

Navarino said the work has been challenging but practical. He said the team members regularly put in 20-30 hours per week on top of their other school work.

“The attorneys at the law firm I worked at this summer were amazed by the types of tasks I had already done,” he said. “It’s not every day that a law student actually gets to go home and mark up a mortgage or sit in on a $2.7 million closing.”