Malcolm Tang

Cross the street from the humming Union Station and you enter a world of eerie silence. Row after row of houses stand empty, boarded up with plywood, whose nails, like the nearby railing and playground slides, have begun to rust. Of the more than 100 houses in sight, only four show possible signs of occupancy.

The desolation is the product of last year’s decision by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and Northland, the private developer that owns the complex, to relocate the residents in the Church Street South neighborhood after it was deemed uninhabitable by federal housing inspectors. Out of the 283 households, only 16 remained as of August, according to the New Haven Register.

Still, there is a chance of revival, albeit an uphill one. The city is applying for a federal Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant to redevelop the Hill-to-Downtown area around Church Street South.

Administered by the federal housing department, the grant gives up to $30 million to transform distressed neighborhoods into viable and sustainable mixed-income neighborhoods, according to its website. It was first awarded in 2010.

“It’s a whole development of the entire site, with much higher buildings, retail [stores], parks and garages,” said Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81, New Haven’s economic development administrator. “It’s a big beautiful project.”

According to Nemerson, the primary goal of the project is to revitalize the area and create commercial opportunities while still maintaining affordable housing for local residents. To this end, the city is planning to create a mixed-income neighborhood by building nearly 1,000 units in the area, about a third of which will be affordable housing, he said.

“It’s very important that you don’t dislocate people,” Nemerson said, ”People who need affordable housing have a right to be in a really good location, too.”

The project is headed by the Livable City Initiative, a city-based housing agency — separate from the federally oriented Housing Authority of New Haven — which is “engaging a team of partners for submission of the Choice Neighborhoods [Implementation Grant] application,” according to its director, Serena Neal-Sanjurjo.

The initiative declined multiple requests for further comment, saying only that “once the process is complete, we will announce the strategy for moving forward.”

Previously, the city has applied for the grant five times, including once last year for the same Church Street South area. All five applications were turned down.

The application process is highly competitive. According to the federal housing department’s website, 34 cities including New Haven applied last year for the grant, and just five received funding.

The department will evaluate applications at its national headquarters using a scoring system that takes into account the capacity, need, strategy and soundness of the plans.

The particular implementation grant for which the city is applying differs from the planning grant also in the Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grant program. That grant has more funding, but cities have to submit “an existing well-thought-out plan to revitalize its neighborhood,” said Rhonda Siciliano, public affairs officer for the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development in the New England Region.

“Those [which] are selected have really proven themselves to have good plans already in place,” Siciliano said.

The application is due on Nov. 22. The federal housing department has yet to determine the date it will release its decisions.

Malcolm Tang |