After a transitional period for the Livable City Initiative, which saw the departure of its leader and discussions of renaming the agency, city leaders say they are optimistic that the new anti-blight director will steer the agency carefully.
Serena Neal-Sanjurjo was installed by Mayor Toni Harp in December, replacing Erik Johnson, who departed to work at a non-profit in Southern California. Neal-Sanjurjo pledged to focus on building the Elm City’s neighborhoods, in particular bringing new business to Dixwell Plaza, a shopping center across the street from the shuttered Q House. City officials, including Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81 and Executive Director of Neighborhood Housing Services in New Haven James Paley, said they are pleased she is following through.
The LCI is focused on improving the quality of life in New Haven neighborhoods and is involved in initiatives such as light illumination, housing code enforcement, city-owned land distribution and federal grant administration. Last week, the LCI helped prepare city residents to argue against the opening of a liquor store on Farren Avenue at a state hearing.
“Ultimately, our goal is to make this city so exciting for developers and investors that we’ll get private money without subsidy, and people will be building market-rate houses and businesses throughout the city,” Nemerson said. “I can’t think of a better person to lead that effort than Serena.”
Nemerson said that he thinks the LCI has been undermanaged in the past couple years and supports Neal-Sanjurjo in first getting a handle on all the management issues. Neal-Sanjurjo reports to Nemerson, and they talk daily.
Laurence Grotheer, director of communications at the Mayor’s Office, reiterated support for Neal-Sanjurjo.
“There has been a seamless transition to [her] leadership,” Grotheer said. “When the mayor appointed her, the mayor knew she was not only well qualified but very familiar with the New Haven system and would be a good fit right away.”
Grotheer noted that there are currently thousands of resident housing units in assorted stages of development, and that the LCI’s responsibility will grow as more and more housing units develop in New Haven.
Paley, who heads the Elm City’s Neighborhood Housing Services — a private non-profit organization that focuses on housing rehabilitation and assistance — said he met with Neal-Sanjurjo last Thursday and was impressed by her energy, intelligence and passion.
“I have great confidence that she will lead LCI well, and that she will be a no-nonsense kind of leader and will be results-driven,” Paley said.
NHS collaborates with LCI to develop city-owned lots and foreclosed houses and receives federal grants administered through the LCI.
Ward 22 Alder Jeanette Morrison said she is scheduled to meet with Neal-Sanjurjo soon and did not want to comment prematurely on Neal-Sanjurjo’s overall vision for the LCI. However, Morrison noted that she has had very good relationships with her LCI neighborhood specialist and other individuals in the LCI.
“The biggest thing in any situation is communication, and I can honestly say that the individuals that work in LCI have been very communicative to me since I’ve been on the Board [of Alders],” Morrison said.