The end is nigh for the crumbling and hotly debated Church Street South complex, as residents of the building are relocated daily due to unsafe living conditions.
Constructed in 1969, Church Street South is located across from Union Station, making it one of the more accessible and prominent complexes in New Haven. This week, owner Northland Investment Corp. agreed to move six tenants and their families out of the subsidized housing complex and into hotel rooms because of a series of housing violations. In past weeks, 10 households were already made to relocate.
“The property is overrun with decrepit, moldy and dingy buildings that should have been replaced 20 years ago,” said Dolores Colón, who represents Church Street South and the surrounding area as Ward 6 alder. “The people there have been living in unsafe, dangerous apartments.”
Northland bought the property in 2008, during former mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s administration. Northland Chairman of the Board Lawrence Gottesdiener said that remodeling Church Street South was one of DeStefano’s top priorities. DeStefano wanted the property modified into a transit-oriented, mixed-use, mixed-income development at the front door of New Haven.
After spending, according to Gottesdiener, “a couple million dollars and thousands of man hours” on the building through 2011, Gottesdiener and DeStefano reached a tentative agreement to demolish the complex and rebuild it, keeping 20 percent of the apartments “affordable.” Ultimately, the deal fell through because the administration wanted a greater portion of the development to be reserved for affordable housing. Ever since, the writing has been on the wall for the complex.
“We have been at a loss since 2012,” said Gottesdiener. “We are not experienced subsidized housing developers. We continued running the complex to the best of our ability and put in $5 million — which might be more than the property has ever received. Unfortunately, the buildings are probably obsolete.”
The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has issued a letter of default to Northland, essentially putting the group on a deadline to bring living conditions up to standard. Northland receives roughly $3 million a year in Section 8 rent subsidies from the federal government.
Laurence Grotheer, spokesman for City Hall, said the administration was pleased that the federal government has finally stepped in.
“City inspectors have been monitoring substandard conditions all along and the city has been working to bring those apartments into compliance,” said Grotheer. “The city is pleased that the federal government has stepped in, because they have more leverage considering they have been making direct payments to the property owner.”
Northland is also under fire from attorney Amy Marx LAW ’00 of the New Haven Legal Assistance Association, who is representing some of the tenants. Marx could not be reached for comment.
Both the administration and Northland agree that the tenants are the top priority.
“We’re a little bit stuck between repairing an obsolete building and building consensus for demolition and relocation, but we can’t focus on that right now,” said Gottesdiener. “Right now our only interest is in the health and safety of the residents. And in that regard … we’re making a substantial financial commitment in the form of relocating quite a few.”
Grotheer echoed the sentiment, saying that Harp’s top priority is the residents.
Despite the crisis, Gottesdiener insisted that he does not regret the investment. He said that his goal — to build a state-of-the-art residence in New Haven — has remained the same.
“It’s hard to say what’s going to happen a year down the road,” he said. “I think the best result would be shut down the location and relocate the residents in a staged process and start to replace the existing building. There is considerable work to be done.”
Church Street South has 301 apartments, about 280 of which were occupied before the relocations began.