New Haven is now one step closer to obtaining $30 million in federal funding for the improvement of the Hill neighborhood, including the redevelopment of Church Street South.
At a meeting on Wednesday evening, the Community Development Committee of the Board of Alders unanimously approved a request by the city to apply for a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The funding would be used to renovate the Church Street South complex, which last year was deemed uninhabitable by federal housing inspectors due to moldy walls, leaky ceilings and general living risks. If awarded, the $30 million grant would help create additional space for retail opportunities, enhance job training and provide other community development programs for residents in the neighborhood.
The city has applied for the grant five times to date, most recently in 2016. None of those applications received the award.
Serena Neal-Sanjurjo, director of the Livable City Initiative — a city program that promotes homeownership and housing redevelopment — said her agency is working on making this year’s application stronger than previous ones.
“We are working really hard to tidy up the application from last year,” she said.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Neal-Sanjurjo broke the plan down into three parts.
First, there’s the “people plan,” which would impact those directly associated with Church Street Housing, she said. This component would provide community services, such as customized job training and children’s education programs and create jobs by adding retail space.
The second portion of the grant would fund a “neighborhood plan,” which would provide new retail opportunities and foster business development in the neighborhood surrounding Church Street South, Neal-Sanjurjo said. The plan would allocate roughly 25,000 square feet for retail.
And third, the “housing plan” would facilitate the construction of 1,000 new housing units and the improvement of existing home-ownership programs.
Ward 2 Alder Frank Douglass said he wanted to know who would be able to afford the new living spaces and who would be living in them. Neal-Sanjuro provided an answer.
The three hundred and one units in the once-livable complex, are projected to be “affordable and workforce housing,” she said. She does not expect all 276 of the residents who have moved out of the complex to return. Ward 6 Alder Dolores Colón ’91 said that only about 20 percent of families tend to return to their original housing site in situations like these.
Discussion at the meeting then shifted to new employment opportunities that the plan would create. Colón said she wanted to make sure the plan has an ample focus on professional training and job creation.
“There is 18 percent unemployment in our neighborhoods, compared to the 4 or 5 percent national average,” she said. “Our people are hurting because they don’t have jobs.”
Neal-Sanjurjo said there would be a big effort to attract businesses to the improved site and to offer residents job training. It would be “more than just your normal training,” she said, emphasizing that there would be customized training programs for retail, construction and other areas of employment.
Colón expressed concern that surrounding areas absorb the brunt of the region’s new jobs. Her hope is that the grant will help grow New Haven’s job market.
“A lot of us that work on the Yale campus see trucks coming from Rhode Island, Boston, wherever, and we are waiting for the day where our residents can have those jobs,” she said. “No one wants to stand on the corner in 20-degree weather selling drugs.”
Seeing the economic promise of the Hill project, Colón said that, as alder of the ward that includes the redevelopment area, she supported approving the application for the grant.
Her colleagues agreed, and the committee unanimously approved the proposal.
The Board of Alders will vote on the issue at their next meeting on Nov. 9. The deadline to submit the proposal to the Federal Housing Administration is Nov. 17.
Max Graham | firstname.lastname@example.org