Yurii Stasiuk, Contributing Photographer

With a winter storm fast approaching, the city decided on Saturday evening, Jan. 13 to allow the Rosette Neighborhood Village Collective to turn on electricity in tiny homes constructed for unhoused people.

Although officials originally sent a cease-and-desist letter asking The Rosette Village Neighborhood Collective to refrain from further construction of the tiny homes in December, activists have since achieved concessions from the city. Following a protest on Friday, activists and residents of the “village” publicly met with city officials in the mayor’s office and reached a final agreement that allowed them to turn on electricity.

“These are folks who have been refugees of your own creation,” organizer Sean Gargamelli-McCreight addressed Elicker during Friday’s meeting. “You have bulldozed their property, their homes, their communities, you’ve broken down their encampment and they fled to gather together in community.”

After the city ordered unhoused people to leave the Ella T. Grasso Boulevard tent city, located on public land in New Haven, and bulldozed it last spring, some took the spots the city offered in shelters and warming centers. Some, however, moved to the backyard of activist Mark Colville, where volunteers constructed six tiny houses. The homes comprise what is now the Rosette Neighborhood Village Collective.

Maggie Grether, Contributing Photographer

Initially, the city ordered the Collective to refrain from further construction to the homes and vacate the structures.

“We have the same expectation for [the Rosette Village Neighborhood Collective] that we have for every other property owner in the city that follows the law,” New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker told the News in October. At the time, he said that the homes did not abide by the city’s zoning regulations. 

Since then, with the help of fifteen lawyers from multinational law firm Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher LLP — which assisted pro bono — and New Haven Legal Aid, the Collective had a series of meetings with city officials to review regulations and find a way forward, said the Collective’s organizer Jacob Miller. But what ultimately swayed Elicker’s decision on tiny houses, Miller believes, was “losing in a court of public opinion.”

During Friday’s meeting, Elicker said that the city tried its best to collaborate, but the process required time. According to him, construction like the one in Colville’s backyard did not fit into the existing legal system, and novel regulations and procedures had to be created. 

With the support of lawyers, activists submitted 20 modification requests to the State Building Code, which the state originally rejected, as tiny houses do not fit into the legal definition of the single-family building code. Instead, the state officials recommended classifying them as temporary structures with less “onerous” regulations, according to Miller.  

But the activists accused the city of not doing enough. So they protested at the City Hall on Friday. 

“We are pissed off, we are angry. Cold people are not comfortable, [uncomfortable] people are not happy,” Christina Del Santo, resident of the Village, told the News. “Help your citizens. [Elicker] is the most powerful man in the city. He can do something.”

During the meeting at the mayor’s office after the protest, Santo said that she lost her voice and was continuously sick because of the cold and lack of heat in her house. 

Rosette Village resident, Orlando Sanchez

According to Elicker and New Haven building inspector Bob Dillon, the city had to develop safety and management regulations for the construction jointly with state officials and could not proceed until they received the approval of the finalized list on Thursday from the state’s building inspector.

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“Normally, we would not entertain a project like this when it was built without permits. We’ve been working really hard on this,” economic development official Mike Piscitelli, who also participated in Friday’s meeting, said Thursday. 

Originally, activists expected to wait until the Board of Zoning Appeals meeting to be allowed to turn on the electricity. The next special meeting, scheduled specifically for the Rosette Neighborhood Village, will be held on Jan. 30.

But given the extreme cold weather approaching in Connecticut — which may pose safety issues to Village residents — activists argued that the electricity had to be turned on immediately,. Following back-and-forth talks, the city agreed to allow the electricity for the houses to be turned on right after the inspection confirmed that they met outlined safety standards. 

Since activists had previously worked with the city on the preliminary safety requirements, most of the regulations were already implemented by Friday’s meeting, according to Gargamelli-McCreight. The city’s building inspector and fire marshal inspected the houses on Saturday, and electricity was officially turned on on Monday, Miller told the News. According to city spokesperson Lenny Speiller, the electricity was, however, turned on on Saturday evening.

The agreement between activists and the city legally defined tiny houses as temporary construction allowed for 180 days. After that, the Collective will have to find a way to fit the houses into permanent zoning and building codes.

“The state’s perspective was, this is not the first time we’re gonna see something like this, so there really needs to be a building and zoning code framework for it,” Miller said. “So our hope is that the state, hopefully in conjunction with us, will continue to figure out what that framework looks like.” 

The Rosette Neighborhood Village Collective is located in New Haven’s Hill neighborhood.

Correction 01/22: A previous version of the article incorrectly stated that the city demanded that the Rosette Neighborhood Village Collective remove the tiny homes. Instead, the cease-and-desist letter ordered to them stop further construction and vacate the tiny houses. The article was also updated to reflect that electricity was turned on on Saturday evening, according to city officials. The language about he city’s actions at the Ella T. Grasso Boulevard tent city was updated.

Yurii Stasiuk is a Managing Editor of the Yale Daily News. He previously covered City Hall as a beat reporter. Originally from Kalush, Ukraine, he is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College majoring in History and Political Science.