Yale Daily News

New Haven has a new director for its Livable City Initiative — the city’s primary Department for Housing and Community Development.

Arvelia Samuel took over as acting director of the department last Friday, days after Mayor Justin Elicker announced her appointment. The decision comes after former director Serena Neal-Sanjurjo announced in September she would step down to work at the Economic Development Corporation of New Haven. Samuel holds over 20 years of experience in housing and previously worked as the Manager of Neighborhood and Commercial Development within the LCI. She said her duties under that position ranged from neighborhood beautification projects to large housing developments. She told the News she hopes to build off the work of her predecessor.

“I’m New Haven born and bred,” Samuel said. “My passion is a successful New Haven, a viable New Haven where people come to work, live and play. So this feels good. It’s me, it’s what I do.”

Mike Piscitelli, Economic Development Administrator of New Haven, said the LCI is a conglomeration of what most other cities would call their housing and community development department. The department was founded in the 1990s. He said Samuels will lead a staff which includes neighborhood specialists and code enforcement personnel.

Reflecting on the influence of her position, Samuel said she will look to lead a department that considers its responsibility “housing for all” as opposed to simply affordable housing. She noted the LCI currently has several affordable housing developments planned for the near future.

“We’re always going to have a focus on affordable housing,” Samuel said. “But we’re not going to stop supporting market-rate development at the same time because they are both needed.”

James Paley, executive director of local non-profit Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven, told the news he’s eager to begin working with Samuels from his position as a community leader on housing and marginalized neighborhoods. He said NHS New Haven has been a long-time partner of the city and LCI, working to prioritize grassroots community development and improve homeownership rates in low-income areas. 

Paley said the LCI  plays a crucial role in distributing subsidies that fund the work of nonprofit organizations such as NHS New Haven.

“The kind of work that we do involves and requires a close collaboration with the city of New Haven,” Paley said. “Without these subsidies, the cost of development would be such that low-income families would not be able to become homeowners.”

Paley said a trend in the city in recent years has been a resurgence of market-rate housing and downtown development, as well as other projects designed to attract new people to the Elm City. This market trend has led to a gradual decrease in public attention towards affordable housing.

“What hasn’t been prominent is reinvestment in low-income, predominantly minority neighborhoods,” Paley said. “So we need now more than ever the funnelling of city resources into the kind of work that we do.” 

According to Paley, Samuel will be in charge of interacting with communities affected by new projects as LCI Director — a role that will make her an integral link between plans and residents. He said the LCI has an incredibly complicated work plan, though he is confident in Samuel’s ability to pull it off.

For Samuel, she is ready to get to work for her city.

“I’m not new to the department, and I’m not new to the city,” Samuel said. “I’m not coming in looking to change the way things are done. The point is, we do good work, and are going to continue to do good work.”

Neal-Sanjurjo had served as the LCI Director since 2014.

Thomas Birmingham | thomas.birmingham@yale.edu