Affordable Housing Urged, Duncan Hotel Redux Blasted

Markeshia Ricks Photo The ongoing relocation of more than 40 people to make way for an upscale hotel downtown has amplified the city’s need to devise a plan to preserve and build more affordable housing.

That was the upshot of a meeting at City Hall Thursday night to discuss the recent purchase of the Duncan Hotel on Chapel Street. Boarders at the 92-room, part-hotel, part-single-room-occupancy (SRO) boarding house learned during the summer that they had until Nov. 11 to vacate the premises.

The majority of those who called the Duncan home have already found new places to live throughout the city and in nearby towns like Hamden. Only eight residents remaining at the Duncan have yet to find a new place to live.

But that Nov. 11 move out date was a sore point for former Duncan residents like James “Turtle” Selest, who was among the nearly 45 people who packed the meeting Thursday to press the new owner for a public hearing on the plans to transform the Duncan into a “boutique” hotel.

Selest called the move out date “inappropriate and unprofessional,” and accused the new owners, the Chicago-based AJ Capital Partners/Graduate Hotels, of “rushing people out.” Others suggested that the new owners were only doing the bare minimum to help residents find new homes.

“Nov. 11 is Veterans’ Day and some of the people, in fact, are veterans,” Selest, who served in both the U.S. Army and Marines, said.

Graduate Hotels President Tim Franzen told meeting attendees Thursday that he was embarrassed that Veterans’ Day had been unwittingly chosen as the move out date and that it would be changed. But he wouldn’t budge on whether there would be a public hearing on the plans for the hotel—there won’t be a hearing, at least not before the Board of Alders.

And certainly, there would be no meeting where alders could vote up or down on the project. Franzen can conduct the renovation by right because he said the Duncan Hotel is just that, a hotel, not officially affordable housing.

Selest found housing with the help of a friend from the city’s anti-blight agency, the Livable City Initiative (LCI), instead of using the relocation services of the Glendower Group, which the developer hired to help people find new homes. He moved to an apartment on Ella T. Grasso Boulevard and he said since he moved there he has experienced shootings and drugs being dealt in his hallway. He said he doesn’t feel safe there.

Franzen defended his company’s efforts to help people relocate, including providing help with security deposits and with the cost of moving. He also pointed out that there was no obligation under city law for the company to do that, but they thought it was the right thing to do.

“We have gone above and beyond,” Franzen said. “We probably can do more and we will, but to say we haven’t is flatly false.”

That was cold comfort to folks like Selest who suddenly lost their homes, but also the tight-knit community that they felt safe in, within the span of a couple months.

“Chapel West is a safe environment,” Selest said, because of its proximity to the Yale University campus. “The only affordable housing is in undesirable locations that are not well policed,” he added. “This is unacceptable. There is no real affordable housing in New Haven.”

“What happens with the little people,” Joe Taylor, a renowned collector and archivist who lives at University Towers, said. “Look what’s happening in San Francisco. Is that what we’re turning New Haven into?”

Time To Act

Ed Mattison said New Haven doesn’t have to become San Francisco or any other community facing skyrocketing rents and the prospect of gentrification if the city and its leaders act to develop policies that preserve and protect affordable housing.

The former alder and current chairman of the City Plan Commission pointed out that until the 1920s, SROs were the standard living arrangements for adults who didn’t live with their parents. And the city lost much of it’s SRO stock, particularly in the Hill, in the 1950s and 1960s because of urban renewal. (Read more about that here.) He said there was no use beating up on developers like A.J. Capital Partners.

“All of these issues really present a big issue for the city itself,” said Mattison, who runs a program for Continuum of Care that helps men get into the city’s sober houses. “Are we going to have housing policy directed toward making affordable housing possible or turn it over to the gentrifiers?”

Anstress Farwell, president of the New Haven Urban Design League, said her organization is looking into different tools to create permanent, affordable housing, such as community land trusts, cooperatives, and even zoning regulations.

She said one of the current challenges for the city is the building of too much of one type of housing, such as efficiency and one-bedroom apartments at high prices. She also cautioned that the city should be careful of the impact of relocating people who are elderly and medically fragile.

“We haven’t looked at the entire picture of housing needs of the city,” Farwell said. “Overall, the city needs to develop a broad housing policy.”

City Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson pointed out that there are cities like Denver that are going their own way when it comes to increasing their affordable housing stock. He said he’s ready to workshop with alders what the city can do to further increase the city’s affordable housing stock. He said Mayor Toni Harp’s administration is working on a grant to preserve 300 affordable units in the new iteration of Church Street South, which will be redeveloped as a mixed-income development.

He said the city, which provides the highest percentage of affordable housing in the state, faces a number of challenges including a changed economy, continued divestment by the federal government in the creation of affordable housing, and battling against communities that don’t want to provide more affordable housing and don’t want people who need to live in affordable housing in their community.

“We open our doors to everyone,” he said. “We’re not just doing a good job. We’re doing the best job.”

He pushed back against the characterization that the city has been gentrified, noting that the vast majority of new development downtown has been built on parking lots, displacing cars, not people. He did, however, acknowledge that the Duncan Hotel redevelopment is the one time that development displaced people.

Nemerson said the city’s data shows that rents are going down as the new developments have come online, not everywhere in the city, but in some neighborhoods like East Rock and Westville.

“This is not San Franciso,” he said. “This is not New York.”

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posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 13, 2017  11:12am

City Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson pointed out that there are cities like Denver that are going their own way when it comes to increasing their affordable housing stock. He said he’s ready to workshop with alders what the city can do to further increase the city’s affordable housing stock. He said Mayor Toni Harp’s administration is working on a grant to preserve 300 affordable units in the new iteration of Church Street South, which will be redeveloped as a mixed-income development.

Again Snake-Oil and Three Card Monte Being sold.Read what Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson AKA the Economic Hit Man said in the New Haven Register.

“Yes, there’s displacement, no doubt about it,” Nemerson said. “But I think at the end of the day, having the kind of investment that’s going to be here, the kind of things that we’re seeing in terms of the restaurants and the bookstores and the other things that are on these blocks of Chapel Street are creating opportunity.”

See spoke like a corporatist.Profits before people.And they People say are Threeefifths you are staring trouble.
but I will keep on saying it New haven is in the second stage of Gentrication.A lot you will be gone soon.Just keep your bags pack.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 13, 2017  11:18am

Ed Mattison said New Haven doesn’t have to become San Francisco or any other community facing skyrocketing rents and the prospect of gentrification if the city and its leaders act to develop policies that preserve and protect affordable housing.

Hey.Ed Mattison It is call INCLUSIONARY ZONING. In fact they are geting ready to do this in NEWARK N .J.Research and results show that more than 200 communities in the United States have successful inclusionary zoning including New York City, San Francisco, Denver, Frederick County, MD, Fairfax County, VA. San Diego, Montclair and Princeton. It is estimated that around the country, inclusionary zoning has produced affordable housing for more than 100,000 families and individuals.In fact Newark’s ordinance is based upon the best practices developed by other cities with inclusionary zoning. Within new housing developments, affordable apartments must be located throughout the building(s), preventing discrimination and segregation. A developer who is unable to include affordable housing units must contribute to a fund that will build affordable housing around the city.

https://www.newarknj.gov/news/inclusionaryzoning

Again if you want to see where New Haven Is heading.Read this book by Two Friends of Mine wayne barrett and jack newfield may they RIP.

City for Sale: Ed Koch and the Betrayal of New York.

“Today’s reformer is tomorrow’s hack,” Brooklyn boss Meade Esposito used to say.

Esposito had a special knack for making this motto a self-fulfilling prophesy. Surely one of his greatest triumphs was the sell-out he and other New York City machine bosses orchestrated

http://www.nationinstitute.org/featuredwork/books/1287/city_for_sale:_ed_koch_and_the_betrayal_of_new_york/

posted by: MCGA on October 13, 2017  12:37pm

Building housing for low-income people is not the answer. Look at Farnam Courts, (http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/farnam_courts_part_ii_gets_underway/) which will be costing over $70 million dollars. How is that an actual solution? I think the best part of the article is that the “Brenda Harris” who is mentioned is a “lifelong resident”. Isn’t the point of subsidized government housing to be a stepping stone? Clearly not.

We should be thankful that Graduate Hotels is willing to invest in our city and create jobs. The answer is not more regulations. New Haven has one of the lowest vacancy rates in the country and guess what? That drives up the cost of housing. Basic supply and demand. New development will drive down the cost of existing housing in other neighborhoods.

I actually agree with the idea of inclusionary housing, but the idea is that people have to work. Creating more slums through large-scale government housing projects is not the answer. Use the $70 million dollars from Farnam Courts to help fund this.

posted by: 1644 on October 13, 2017  1:03pm

Public Housing is a tremendously wasteful way of providing housing.  First, the necessity to use “prevailing” wages and for contractors to make political contributions (aka bribes) make construction absurdly expensive.  Second managers have no capital of their own in the projects, so little incentive to maintain them.  Evicting troublesome tenants is a long, expensive process which leads to more street people.  The course of least resistance is to let bad tenants remain.  The result is the housing wears out quickly, needing the be razed in only a few decades.  Vouchers are a far better use of public funds.

posted by: wendy1 on October 13, 2017  7:20pm

With more affordable rents and home prices not to mention reasonable tax and utility costs, NH population would expand with boomers and millennials who could afford to take advantage of all the city’s commercial offerings and assets.  I love it here and spend $$ here every day hoping and praying the mom and pops I love remain here.  People living in subsidized housing can become tax-paying consumers in many cases.  I think we have enough hotels and the Duncan is special but should be appropriately priced and also consider long term local tenants who wish to remain in their home neighborhood.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on October 13, 2017  7:36pm

If the zoning ordinance permits a development as of right, the developer can build it without a public hearing - that is what “as of right” means. The Board of Alders can amend the ordinance, but the change would apply prospectively. And, notwithstanding the real need for affordable housing, there is no legal basis for an inclusionary housing requirement. The legislature could allow municipalities to impose such requirements, as is the case in several states. But I’m not holding my breath.

posted by: wendy1 on October 14, 2017  8:30am

One more thing——the homeless are not going “to go away”. NH provides free food and clothing.  We are a sanctuary city.  Anyone of us could be suddenly homeless.  Without pension and social security, I would be sleeping behind Conte School or my fave place, SOM on Whitney (poop free grass).  Humans according to the UN Charter have a right to homes.  Subsidized housing can work and in many cases can be run by the tenant/owners themselves.  Those of you who wish to segregate from the poor are shooting yourselves in the foot.  I agree Farnam Courts is a disaster but that is what happens when you purposely try to hide and ghettoize your fellow man.

posted by: LookOut on October 14, 2017  8:59am

glad to see this story - where we have one case where logical development that will certainly benefit the community as a whole is not being held up by those who want to look backwards and yearn for New Haven’s dark days. 

Keep it moving

posted by: budman on October 14, 2017  10:32am

Look, I don’t always agree with Nemerson, but when he says “We open our doors to everyone,” he said. “We’re not just doing a good job. We’re doing the best job.”, he’s 100% correct.  New Haven can’t be the only place that creates affordable housing.  This must be a county wide initiative, along with services.  new Haven is doing a great job with the diversity of our housing stock, and the more units that come on line, that will drive prices down..

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on October 14, 2017  11:12am

Look at the rents in these apartments.They can do this here in this state.

Affordable’ apartments are opening up in Brooklyn starting at $558 a month

The units are one-, two-, and three-bedrooms, are set aside for households making $21,100-$66,420.

https://www.brickunderground.com/rent/affordable-housing-brooklyn-downtown-east-new-york

366 below-market rate apartments are now available across Brooklyn and the Bronx, starting at $558 a month

The New York City Housing Authority is set to manage 80 of the 284 apartments being built as part of the new, multi-block development, and the remainder are being set aside for households making $21,600-$66,420. The apartments are split between four-and-a-half to six-story elevator buildings and four-story, townhouse style walkups. The apartments being offered in the latest phase are in a block-spanning building with a courtyard. Preference is being given to former Prospect Plaza Houses residents, then to current NYCHA residents and Section 8 voucher holders. Rent for one-bedrooms starts at $558.

https://www.brickunderground.com/rent/affordable-housing-brooklyn-bronx-lottery

Even NYC developers think the rent is getting too damn high

Andrea Olshan, owner of the rental portion of the 12,000-unit Parkchester complex, says that rent pressures closer to Manhattan are pushing higher-income tenants into her development.

https://www.brickunderground.com/live/nyc-developers-rent-too-high

posted by: denny says on October 14, 2017  9:28pm

Budman is correct. New Haven can’t be the only city/town with affordable housing. The middle class in New Haven can no longer afford to support the growing low income population.

We need more east rock and westville neighborhoods, and fewer low income ones. The region can’t expect new haven to bear the burden for all surrounding towns.

And there is no such thing as affordable housing. The building codes are so extensive its impossible to build or renovate affordably.

posted by: jim1 on October 15, 2017  6:30am

Do you think the new owner cares?

posted by: 1644 on October 15, 2017  10:59am

Wendy:
1.  The UN Charter says nothing about housing.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly, does, although it does not say who is responsible for providing housing.  One could read it as just say that no one can be banned from housing, no that they need to be given it (by whom?).
2.  As a regular NHI reader, you should know that, with some exceptions, tenant-run housing has failed, and failed quickly.  The list of failed tenant run projects included Trade Union Plaza, the Jaycees’ Church Street South/Jungle, and Antillean Manor (Antillean Friendly Society, sponsor).  Hill Central survived, but its members have decided, after many years, to sell to investor owners.  Running an apartment complex requires both an ability to think and plan long-term (setting rents high enough to build reserves for major repairs such as new roof, siding, pointing etc.) and a willingness to place the survival of the many above the needs of individuals, e.g., evict those who don’t pay their rent, cause damages, or interfere with others’ quiet enjoyment of their homes.
3. As you know, the homeless are not a monolithic group.  Some, like the retired journalists at the Duncan, just chose a career field that transformed from thriving to dying, and therefore lost their pensions, etc.  These folks would do well in a co-op, and just need rental assistance.  Then, there are the mentally ill and substance abusers.  Money won’t help the man with $30K who chooses to live on Metro-North.  Do we force him into a group home?  And what of your friend whose idea of long range planning is finding his next beer?  Or those who would never place paying rent above buying smack? Do we incarcerate them?  Force them into residential treatment programs that amount to incarceration? Do we just give them drugs so they won’t steal and rob for money to buy them?  I don’t think any of us really have the answers.  Were there easy answers, we would not have homeless.

posted by: wendy1 on October 15, 2017  3:23pm

I live in tenant run housing.  1644, the answers are easy.  New Haven has empty buildings and land and lots of public and private money and architects and contractors.  I believe in open borders, legal drugs including narcotics, and housing for all who WANT a roof.  Yes there are various forms of housing for various groups of people.  What we dont need are crap shelters like Grand Ave. and Columbus House which kick you out after time served….a yurt in a field would be so much better, even a tent.
I am interested in immediate housing; detox, treatment, social work can follow but you cant rationalize homelessness and call yourself ethical or moral.  I know about the guy on the train and he is out of the weather in a vehicle with plumbing fixtures.  He’s harmless.  Like him, most cant afford NH rents or mortgages and they NEED our help.  $30,000 is chump change retirement.
In general crime will rise with homelessness along with deaths.  There are a million or so white boomers living in their vehicles (read NOMADLAND by Bruder.  I met her).  These folks dont have med. insur. or any safety nets, either.  We have 2 big hospitals in town and poor people dying on the street and in vehicles, now.  We have lice, scabies, lung diseases, parasites, and infections all out on the streets now and near you and your kids because my felllow countrymen put up with homelessness.  You might as well call us No Haven….or Calcutta.
I am interested in tents, yurts, small houses and apts. as well as apt. buildings and other buildings but I need the city and Yale and other big $$ to get real and DEAL.