Jiahui Hu

The 273 families still living in Church Street South — a 301-unit affordable housing complex condemned for poor living conditions by the city in August — are moving ever closer to finding new homes.

Last week, landlord Northland Investment Corporation, which has worked with the city and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to relocate residents, detailed the plan to expedite the relocation of families from the dilapidated complex. The three organizations announced in November that they would develop a plan for families who wished to receive portable vouchers — federal grants to offset rent — for use at any apartment in the Elm City. Originally, all families would have had to wait for Northland and public officials to screen them and locate homes. But that process proved arduous and slow, with only 40 families relocated to permanent homes since screening began last fall.

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At last week’s meeting, families were asked to choose whether they preferred a portable voucher at any home of their choosing or whether they wanted officials to locate a federally subsidized apartment for them. At the meeting, residents learned that the New Haven Housing Authority would administer the vouchers, which will likely be available by the end of March, said Rhonda Siciliano, public affairs officer for the New England Region of HUD. Around one-fifth of residents have indicated that they want officials to locate federal public housing for them, Siciliano said. While the vouchers allow families to find housing more quickly than waiting for assigned public housing, they do not guarantee that the families will be able to locate long-term solutions within their budgets.

“This has been a real team effort; everyone has been working together to move this process forward,” Siciliano said. “Northland has really taken on a lot of this effort and they have stepped up to work with everyone to get through this process.”

Northland, the city and HUD now turn their attention to finding or creating 301 new federally subsidized apartment units to replace the 301 that will be demolished at Church Street South once all residents are relocated. The first few units located will be for the Church Street South families who do not choose to take a portable voucher.

The initial search for new affordable housing units in New Haven has been promising, Siciliano said, noting that 20 property owners with 900 units in total have responded to HUD’s requests. Finding and finalizing new affordable housing will take longer than distributing vouchers, especially because many families at Church Street South live in three, four or five-bedroom apartments, which are scarce in the city.

The events surrounding Church Street South prompted discussion about affordable housing in the Elm City when HUD Secretary Julián Castro visited the Christopher Columbus Family Academy on Friday for a roundtable discussion with Latino leaders in New Haven. Castro said affordable housing units tended to be in “older, distressed” neighborhoods. Policies are rightly changing to favor vouchers rather than public housing, because they allow families to move to areas that provide better educational opportunities for their children, he said.

But studies show that only 5 percent of families with housing vouchers move into neighborhoods with lower rates of crime and poverty, said Bart Lloyd, managing director of Preservation of Affordable Housing, a national nonprofit that renovates and redevelops affordable housing. Federal funding for affordable housing should instead be placed into physical brick-and-mortar locations — an option which Northland, the city and HUD are providing alongside vouchers, Lloyd said.

Church Street South was built in 1969.