Preservation of Affordable Housing — a national nonprofit that renovates and redevelops affordable housing — offered to purchase Church Street South last week from current owner Northland Investment Corporation.
POAH frequently purchases derelict affordable housing projects, often funded by mid-20th century housing grants, and restores them into mixed-income complexes, POAH Managing Director Bart Lloyd said. The organization proposed to buy and rebuild Church Street South’s 300 Section 8 units — federally funded living spaces for low-income families — into a complex with 300 to 400 mixed-income units, Lloyd said. Roughly 50 percent would be Section 8 units.
But Northland has not yet responded to the letter, Lloyd said.
Northland did not disclose to the News what they intend to do with the failed project. But they voiced plans to redevelop the location into a new apartment complex in a September meeting with tenants.
“We made an offer and we’d be very interested in buying the building,” Lloyd said. “It’s hard to tell whether it will work out. But Northland has indicated they have no interest in selling.”
When residents are given vouchers to fund their move from failed projects, Lloyd said, their former homes often become unaffordable. He added that residents with vouchers typically move into neighborhoods with greater or equal rates of crime and poverty.
Lloyd said directly funding redevelopment is preferable to giving residents vouchers to move because these can expire and there is always the risk of them being cut due to budget restraints. He said direct development funding also contributes to a long-lasting supply of affordable housing.
“In our experience in Chicago and elsewhere, when you have a potentially gentrifying neighborhood, those tenants never come back,” Lloyd said. “I have a true belief that Northland is sincere and wants to bring tenants back, but we would make sure that happens.”
POAH’s offer to ensure at least 50 percent of their new units are classified as Section 8 contrasts with Northland’s 2011 agreement with former Mayor John DeStefano to rebuild Church Street South and keep just 20 percent as affordable housing units.
DeStefano convinced Northland to buy and renovate the already dilapidated property in 2008, noting Church Street South — which is located opposite Union Station — stands in an important location in New Haven because it connects the station to the downtown area.
The 2011 deal to redevelop the complex fell through in 2012 — before any major construction work could begin — after the Board of Alders requested the proportion of affordable units increase from 20 to 28 percent. Northland could not do so profitably, said Northland Chairman Lawrence Gottesdiener in a Thursday email to the News.
Gottesdiener noted that though Northland purchased a property they knew was in very bad condition, they invested in improving the building.
From a 2003 housing inspection score in the low 30s out of 100, Gottesdiener said, the complex’s score rose to 81 in November 2014. He added Northland achieved this score right before a particularly harsh winter that significantly damaged the building.
“While Northland did not create the problems at Church Street South, and did our best to mitigate them, we do understand that we are stewards of the property and it is our responsibility,” Gottesdiener said.
This is not the first time POAH has encountered hesitant sellers, Lloyd said.
Lloyd said tenants in a Chicago project that POAH later purchased protested outside their local Department of Housing and Urban Development office against a contract for the sale of their apartment complex to a for-profit developer.
Several attorneys representing Church Street South tenants have asked him to consider purchasing the complex, he added.
As Northland considers its options, the organization continues to move families out of Church Street South, with the help of HUD and the Housing Authority of New Haven. Over the past week, HUD approved the first three housing units that Church Street South families will be relocated to, HUD spokeswoman for the New England Region, Rhonda Siciliano, said.
HUD will inspect dozens more across the city in the upcoming week, she said, adding that HUD aims to move all Church Street South tenants who have been moved into temporary housing into a permanent home by Thanksgiving.
Siciliano said it took longer than expected to relocate tenants in temporary housing into permanent housing. The Church Street South project is unlike any other in terms of the number and the size of families.
Siciliano added that the New Haven housing market is particularly limited for a city of its size. Five-bedroom units, that could accommodate the many large families in Church Street South, are particularly difficult to find, she said.
Around 200 apartment units in New Haven and surrounding areas have been identified as potential homes for former Church Street South tenants, Siciliano added.
“This came out of an initial reach out to landlords, the state and other groups,” Siciliano said. “There has been a real outpouring of support.”
Church Street South was built in 1969.