Despite years of discussion to redevelop the rundown Church Street South housing project, the city and the landlord have not yet come up with concrete plans for improvement.
The Church Street South housing project, which consists of 301 individual family units located across from Union Station, was originally constructed in 1969. The site has been notoriously “troubled” for decades, according to former Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who was in office when the initial phase of redevelopment planning began. When Northland Investment Corporation of Boston bought the project from a private landlord in 2008, the city began to discuss the project, which operates as a Section 8 site — a federal program that provides housing to Americans living in poverty. But the project has not been able to move forward, as Northland has not put forward a plan for renewal.
“There’s really nothing we can do on our own, unfortunately. We really want to work with [Northland], but at this point, they have been unwilling to come back to us with a plan of action,” said Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81, the city’s economic development administrator.
According to DeStefano, residents have complained about a host of issues in their apartment units, including mold and poor ventilation, which led to carbon monoxide leakage. He said the property was already falling into disrepair and was plagued by criminal activity and drug-related gang violence by the 1980s. The city, he said, recognized that the existing site should be demolished and redeveloped into a site with both housing and commercial spaces when it began discussions with Northland.
Erik Johnson, former director of the Livable City Initiative — a neighborhood-focused agency whose goal is to enhance residents’ experiences in New Haven — began negotiations with Northland in 2012. DeStefano said that despite the city’s support, Northland never felt comfortable enough to proceed with redevelopment.
Northland could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Nemerson said that since 2012, the city has talked to representatives from Northland a number of times and encouraged them to consider a collaborative effort to redevelop the site along with LCI. For the past few months, members of LCI have been evaluating the conditions of the apartments to determine the best course of action. But because Northland owns the property, they have the final decision on redevelopment, Nemerson said, adding that the housing project as it stands is lucrative for Northland.
The housing project is unique in the city in that it accommodates large families, unlike many other affordable housing sites in New Haven.
LCI Director Serena Neal-San Jurjo, who assumed the position in November, said that prior to Johnson’s departure late last year, she had been helping Johnson develop the Hill-to-Downtown Community Plan, which was issued last November. In the plan, residents of the Hill — a neighborhood southwest of the Yale medical school — called for the redevelopment of the Church Street South project into a building consisting of up to 750 units for mixed-income housing and other uses, including retail and restaurants. The goal of the plan is to turn the current, dilapidated project into a public space and hub of activity for residents and visitors.
The Community Plan also calls for the implementation of a steering committee of community representatives to work with the owners of the Church Street South project, according to the online report.
“The city’s goal is to have the vision the community came up with come to fruition,” said Neal-San Jurjo. “We’ll do it, ultimately.”
Neal-San Jurjo said that the Board of Alders must approve the plan before it can move forward.