Sonia Khurana; Avital Smotrich
Geller Commons, a state-funded affordable housing unit in Hamden, Connecticut, opened its doors last week to homeless individuals living in the city and surrounding communities.
New Reach, a New Haven-based nonprofit dedicated to combating homelessness and poverty in Connecticut, developed the property using a $7.6 million grant awarded by Connecticut’s Permanent Supportive Housing Initiative in 2014. The grant was approved by the Interagency Committee on Supportive Housing, an organization of state committees that develops long-term housing solutions for families, individuals and young adults. Construction of the unit broke ground in April 2015, and the building welcomed its first tenants last week. In addition to providing rental housing, Geller Commons will offer its residents support ranging from counseling to transportation.
The housing unit, located on Sanford Street, comprises 33 handicap-accessible, single-bedroom apartments, 16 of which will be allocated to individuals who earn 50 percent of the New Haven metro area’s average median income. Of the remaining 17, 10 are set aside for the chronically homeless — individuals who have been homeless for at least one year or who are disabled and have been homeless at least four times in the past three years — including veterans ineligible for Veteran Affairs Supportive Housing. Seven will be rented out to youths aging out of foster care.
When announcing the grant recipients, Gov. Dannel Malloy stressed the vital role supportive housing plays in providing economic stability to those who are in need.
“These homes are a proven way to end long-term homelessness,” Malloy said in an April 2014 press release. “When we invest in housing, we invest in people, in stable neighborhoods and communities, and in our economic future.”
According to Christie Stewart, chief development director of New Reach, the nonprofit works with other organizations to identify and house those most in need. New Reach works with the Connecticut Department of Children and Families to identify youths who are no longer eligible to be in the foster care system. New Reach also partners with statewide Coordinated Access Networks to secure housing for chronically homeless individuals. CANs carry out standardized assessments and referral processes to connect homeless individuals with appropriate resources within their geographic region. Stewart said interagency cooperation ensures “that all of the tenants have been prioritized based on need.”
Dale Kroop, Hamden’s director of economic and community development, said the city worked closely with New Reach to ensure that the project reached fruition. According to Kroop, Hamden’s municipal government provided ongoing feedback to the New Reach developers on architectural design and safety features. Kroop said he collaborated with Kellyann Day, the CEO of New Reach, to help her usher the project through necessary zoning processes and educate the public about why this type of project is important.
According to Kroop, Geller Commons has attracted a number of homeless individuals around Hamden. Kroop added that this will have a positive impact on the town because these new residents will frequent Hamden’s shops and restaurants and “become a part of the community.” While Geller Commons will certainly benefit a significant number of people, Kroop said, many more such projects are needed to effectively fight chronic homelessness.
“The Hamden Housing Authority has a waiting list of several hundred people, so that alone tells me that there is a great need for affordable housing,” Kroop said.
Geller Commons is named after the late Barbara Geller, a supportive housing pioneer and former Statewide Services Division Director at Connecticut’s Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.