Erika Morrison’s sons Gabe, Seth, and Jude will reluctantly give up some nifty forts they have built over the years at secret locations in the narrow strip of woods between Q Avenue and the Q River.
They made that concession on a sunny riverine afternoon Tuesday as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Mayor John DeStefano, and other officials gathered near the secret forts, open land that runs steeply down to the river on the 400 block of Quinnipiac Avenue.
The occasion was the governor’s announcement that the city had won $1.5 million in a competitive process out of a total state pot of $13.8 million to help build affordable housing in just such working, lower and middle-class areas as the Q River neighborhood. The idea is to help not just the poorest neighborhoods, but those in “transitional” areas as well, neighborhoods that could prosper or decline.
About a third of the $1.5 million will be used by the city to develop 12 to 15 single family homes at this location, said Livable City Initiative Director Erik Johnson. Permanent homes for families, rather than kids’ forts.
He said the city has already moved to purchase the site for $400,000 from Continuum of Care, which owns it.
The $400,000 purchase will go before the Board of Aldermen for approval this summer, Johnson said.
For a decade the site, two plots bifurcated by a separately owned strip and pier, has been wrangled over, with both for and non-profit developers coming up with plans that raised concerns and ire of neighbors.
Recently the city, working with the Quinnipiac River Community Group, came up with a plan acceptable to neighbors because it respects the river, the historical district, and promises access to a public beach, said Chris Ozyck, a neighborhood activist who has kept an eye on the project.
The state chose New Haven’s project, one of 11 winners out of a field of about 20 cities and not-for-profit developers, because “they’ve been building on a past program [of stabilizing neighborhoods] and have a great track record,” said Nick Lundgren, who heads the housing division of the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development.
Taking in the river and new sidewalks with bump-outs that he helped make happen, DeStefano said the city does well with market-rate housing and subsidized housing like Q Terrace.
“What we don’t do so well is stuff in the middle, workforce housing,” homes neighbors in the area or working people of modest means can afford, he said. “This project will finally get that done.”
Johnson said a commercial developer cannot be brought in to the site without financial help from the city, and now the state.
Ozyck said he remains enthusiastic about the project. “I just love the idea of homes for working people. [But] maintaining public areas is paramount. Public dollars go in, that means public access,” he said.
Johnson estimated that when complete, the homes will sell in the $180,000 to $240,000 range and will respect the coastal and historic character of the neighborhood.
The Morrison boys’ forts will be gone. “It’ll be sad,” said Gabe Then he grew philosophical, saying that he and his brothers look forward to watching the construction.
“We’ll still have the beach and the river,” he noted.