Amid Destruction, Last Tenant Holds On

Paul Bass PhotosDelores Robinson doesn’t find it eerie to live in the last occupied Church Street South apartment while a work crew rips apart all the buildings around her.

She’s not scared sleeping there alone with her 18-year-old granddaughter.

But when she’s not home — the thought of thieves coming back to steal her stuff and her plumbing ... that’s unnerving.

Or the idea of staying in a fleabag temporary hotel room, or moving out in “the woods,” like in the Brookside public-housing development on the far west side of town — that, too, unsettles her.

So while men maneuver Bobcats and backhoes to gut and tear apart the concrete village she has called home for the past 27 years, where she raised her four children, where she spent her own teenage years as well back in the 1970s, Robinson waits for word about when she, too, will finally leave.

Not that she’s eager to.

“I really don’t want to leave,” she said Tuesday afternoon while sitting outside her apartment with her cellphone out, anticipating a call about possible new apartments. “I know I have to. I’m going like everybody else.”

“Everybody else” once occupied 301 apartments in the 22-building federally subsidized apartment complex across from Union Station. Then, at the behest of New Haven Legal Assistance attorneys, government inspectors discovered mold problems that had been neglected for decades, crumbling roofs and porches, and other dangerous conditions that coincided with rampant asthma. Officials declared that everyone needed to be moved out and the complex torn down.

That was years ago. Officials originally promised to relocate all families by Christmas 2015. Finding new homes for all the families has proved harder than promised.

Now the complex’s owner, Massachusetts-based Northland Investment Corp., has begun in earnest dismantling the buildings.


The company is “doing ‘pre demo” work, which includes interior demo and abatement,” Chairman Larry Gottesdiener reported in an email message. Abcon Abatement & Demolition is overseeing the removal of asbestos, the current phase of the work, and then the demolition. Its crew was hard at work Tuesday on buildings in the northern half of the complex. The areas are now fenced off to the public, eliminating popular shortcuts from the train station to downtown.

“The [demolition] project is going to be a year and a half to get it down and cleaned up and everything else,” said Abcon Director Dan Masto.

City Building Official Jim Turcio said he expects to issue a permit for the full demolition later this week, once Abcon finishes with the asbestos. “It’s in the floors. It’s in the walls,” he said. Meanwhile, the city is working with Northland to secure financing for a 1,000-unit mixed-income complex that would include 300 “affordable” apartments.

Thomas Breen photoJosephine Falcon, who has lived in the neighboring subsidized Robert T. Wolfe apartments for the past four years, said Tuesday that she is happy to see the work moving forward.

“I used to look out my window,” she said, “and I’d see kids with no parents wandering around, and drug dealers in the back.” She said that she saw drug dealers working the back courtyard even after almost all of the tenants at the apartment complex had been relocated.

“Not everyone low income is bad,” she said. “People need to know that. But I would love to see New Haven get bigger and property values go up.”

The relocation of tenants has created a ghost town feel at Church Street South. Except at Jose Marti Court section nearest to the train station, which remains open, and where Delores Robinson remains with her granddaughter in a first-floor apartment.

Good Memories

Robinson, who fondly remembered living in Church Street South as a teen, moved back there in the early 1990s from Florida. The murderous Jungle Boys drug-dealing gang ruled the complex back then.

“I prayed and prayed,” she recalled. And her prayers came true: “My children never got involved in that.”

“I raised four children here,” said Robinson, who is 63. “They’ve all become productive citizens.”

When Northland and HANH’s development and management arm, the Glendower Group, started moving her neighbors out, Robinson wasn’t in a rush. She’s comfortable at Church Street South. She likes being on a bus line because she doesn’t drive. She likes living on the first floor because she has weak knees that need replacements.

Some of her neighbors went to live temporarily in hotels before finding new apartments. She heard horror stories from them, so she wouldn’t accept offers to do the same. “I’m so nervous about roaches and bedbugs,” she said. Plus, “I only want to move one time. I’m too old. I work 12-hour days.”

Complicating her move was her decision not to accept a portable federal Section 8 rental voucher that she could take to any participating landlord’s apartment in town. Most Church Street South families did take those vouchers. Twelve opted instead to move into projects that have subsidies directly attached to them (rather than to tenants) under Section 8(bb)(1) of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937. Robinson said she had heard too many horror stories about Section 8 landlords who rushed families out of apartments to make way for relatives, or who live far away and allow conditions to deteriorate.

Thomas Breen PhotoBut it proved hard to find owners of larger complexes to make apartments available under that program for Church Street South tenants. Eventually, the Glendower Group convinced most of the 12 families to accept Section 8 vouchers, according to Senior Vice-President Shenae Draughn.

Robinson remained a hold-out. She looked at some apartments. But she felt she needed one on the first floor. She wanted a city-style neighborhood, not the remote Brookside development behind West Rock. “I don’t like the woods. That’s creepy. I’d rather be here.” She wants to move to a complex like, say, Monterey Place in Dixwell or the newly rebuilt Farnam Courts at Grand Avenue and Hamilton Avenue.

“They have a right to say yea or nay whether or not we think it’s suitable,” Draughn said of the tenants to whom she shows potential apartments.

Paul Bass PhotoSo Robinson continues going to work for 12-hour shifts at Medtronic medical-device factory off I-91 Exit 8, then coming home to an otherwise abandoned Church Street South. At home, she feels safe. But she feels nervous while at work — because of the thieves who continually break into other apartments to steal the pipes. She had to ask management to replace her own doorknob after thieves tried unsuccessfully to break in. Several times her apartment flooded after thieves made off with the pipes in neighboring apartments.

Now Robinson has accepted fate: She told Glendower she’ll agree to a Section 8 voucher. She’s in the process of completing the paperwork to qualify. “If that’s what it takes for me to get out of here,” she said.

But the story may end with good news for her. Draughn said it’s looking like an apartment will be available at either Farnam (where the first rebuilt wing opened last week) or Monterey. “She’s in the process of completing paperwork,” Draughn said. She predicted that Robinson will be out of Church Street South — which will then be completely empty of tenants — within two weeks, assuming Robinson’s paperwork clears.

And assuming Robinson OKs the apartment. She said she wants to make sure she doesn’t need to ride an elevator to an upper floor. “I get creeped out” by elevators, she said.

“They have ground floors at Monterey Place?”

Thomas Breen contributed reporting.


Previous coverage of Church Street South:
Survey: 48% Of Complex’s Kids Had Asthma
Families Relocated After Ceiling Collapses
Housing Disaster Spawns 4 Lawsuits
20 Last Families Urged To Move Out
Church St. South Refugees Fight Back
Church St. South Transfers 82 Section 8 Units
Tenants Seek A Ticket Back Home
City Teams With Northland To Rebuild
Church Street South Tenants’ Tickets Have Arrived
Church Street South Demolition Begins
This Time, Harp Gets HUD Face Time
Nightmare In 74B
Surprise! Now HUD Flunks Church St. South
Church St. South Tenants Get A Choice
Home-For-Xmas? Not Happening
Now It’s Christmas, Not Thanksgiving
Pols Enlist In Church Street South Fight
Raze? Preserve? Or Renew?
Church Street South Has A Suitor
Northland Faces Class-Action Lawsuit On Church Street South
First Attempt To Help Tenants Shuts Down
Few Details For Left-Behind Tenants
HUD: Help’s Here. Details To Follow
Mixed Signals For Church Street South Families
Church St. South Families Displaced A 2nd Time — For Yale Family Weekend
Church Street South Getting Cleared Out
200 Apartments Identified For Church Street South Families
Northland Asks Housing Authority For Help
Welcome Home
Shoddy Repairs Raise Alarm — & Northland Offer
Northland Gets Default Order — & A New Offer
HUD, Pike Step In
Northland Ordered To Fix Another 17 Roofs
Church Street South Evacuees Crammed In Hotel
Church Street South Endgame: Raze, Rebuild
Harp Blasts Northland, HUD
Flooding Plagues Once-Condemned Apartment
Church Street South Hit With 30 New Orders
Complaints Mount Against Church Street South
City Cracks Down On Church Street South, Again
Complex Flunks Fed Inspection, Rakes In Fed $$
Welcome Home — To Frozen Pipes
City Spotted Deadly Dangers; Feds Gave OK
No One Called 911 | “Hero” Didn’t Hesitate
“New” Church Street South Goes Nowhere Fast
Church Street South Tenants Organize

Post a Comment

Commenting has closed for this entry

Comments

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on May 9, 2018  3:34pm

Josephine Falcon, who has lived in the neighboring subsidized Robert T. Wolfe apartments for the past four years, said Tuesday that she is happy to see the work moving forward.“I used to look out my window,” she said, “and I’d see kids with no parents wandering around, and drug dealers in the back.” She said that she saw drug dealers working the back courtyard even after almost all of the tenants at the apartment complex had been relocated.“Not everyone low income is bad,” she said. “People need to know that. But I would love to see New Haven get bigger and property values go up.”

When the Gentrification Vampires Finish.New Haven will get bigger and property values go up. But you will not get to see it.You to will be goneThe Gentrification Vampires also have there eyes on Robert T. Wolfe apartments.

posted by: theNEWnewhaven on May 9, 2018  4:04pm

I don’t understand how I’m reading in MAY of 2018 an article about ONE resident holding up CSS’s redevelopment when she was mandated to be out of the CONDEMNDED property by DECEMBER of 2015?!

REALLY?! WHAT IS GOING ON? How is this real and not an article on The Onion?

She denied a VOUCHER to go ANYWHERE. That should be the end of her story.

She can live with one of her FOUR children.

On top of that,  she denies brand new structures like Brookside. WHAT?! 

WHAT, are y’all AFRIAD of by giving harder deadlines housing authority?

Clearly the LAWSUITS that everyone is hoping for, but that was to be expected.


....I have to wonder who is really in charge these days?!

Articles like this, the cost PER UNIT on the reconstruction of the G, the tax hike, our school’s saturation of admins…..

I can’t help but side with the MANY that are hemorrhaging from this state.

When do WE as residents get a voice on this ridiculousness?

This story (and the mindset behind it)  is a shocking to me, a CLEAR example of why Connecticut is shrinking / floundering as a community.

We need to make some drastic changes before the backbone of CT’s middle class is somewhere outside Charleston.

posted by: wendy1 on May 9, 2018  5:06pm

This lady DESERVES to be moved to a decent home or apt. in the neighborhood of her choice and her moving expenses should be paid for by the crooks who ran those rattraps.  I totally empathize…I hate moving…I hate leaving home and my neighbors and shops that know me for better or worse.  I hope her lawyer is pro bono and feisty.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 9, 2018  5:16pm

TNNH,
You may get some value out of looking through this:
https://newhavenurbanism.files.wordpress.com/2018/05/history-repeating_the-redevelopment-of-church-street-south-in-new-haven.pdf

There are many valid reasons why a tenant would not have wanted to move.
1) The private housing market that accepts Section 8 vouchers is riddled with slumlords.
2) Other housing options are farther from transportation, employment, cultural, shopping, and social destinations than CSS.
3) There were some perfectly fine apartments at CSS that did not suffer from issues related to mold and were much nicer than other subsidized housing units in the area.

The City has not yet approved Northland’s demolition permit. That is the reason why demolition has not progressed beyond “pre-demolition” work, not because of this tenant. December 2015 was the arbitrary date by which the Housing Authority and Northland hoped the relocation effort would be completed - not the date by which tenants had to relocate themselves. Relocation services are required for tenants of subsidized housing in situations like this where their apartment is condemned, or slated for demolition, or being renovated. It’s not the tenant’s voluntarily opting to leave - it’s them being forced out due to factors beyond their control, so its on the owner to provide adequate relocation services - as determined by the tenant.

It’s difficult and time consuming to find adequate housing for 288 families, which was the task undertaken beginning in October 2015. Some families did move out on their own early on, others were relocated to motels, others accepted portable vouchers. I happen to think the person highlighted in this article chose the best available option, which was a subsidized unit which will remain available for subsequent low income households in the future (unlike a portable Section 8 voucher which follows the tenant).

posted by: theNEWnewhaven on May 9, 2018  5:32pm

Wendy - “This lady DESERVES to be moved to a decent home or apt. in the neighborhood of her choice and her moving expenses should be paid for by the crooks who ran those rattraps.”

NO, She lost this type of advocacy when she DENIED the VOUCHER to move ANYWHERE: including a decent home or apartment in the neighborhood of her choice.

When you choose to stay on a low income housing list instead of taking a VOUCHER to go elsewhere, you get what you are GIVEN / What’s available. What choices do middle class people who get no subsidies provided?

Next y’all will be defending section 8 recipients when they points to Saint Ronan and says “That’s where I want to be”.

She had options, MANY. Elevators, Wooded surroundings, etc should NOT be the reason CSS is held up over TWO YEARS!

posted by: Esbey on May 9, 2018  5:53pm

@theNEWnewhaven: have a heart. She isn’t holding up the redevelopment, they haven’t gotten to her building yet and she is moving before they do.

I probably agree with you about many things we have to do to move CT forward, but this lady really isn’t the problem.

posted by: wendy1 on May 9, 2018  10:25pm

NEWNewHaven, once again you show a lack of kindness and compassion.  Yes, I would like to see more than one black American living on St. Ronan St.  And whatever her reasons for staying, I would bet the powers that be never offered a decent sum of money to move out as an option for her to consider.  Two of my NYC friends in rent controlled studios held out for a quarter million before they moved willingly.
Housing vouchers are less useful than toilet paper in this town.  Until the working poor are included in this economy and treated as assets not undesirables, we will all suffer the consequences, even you, Newnew.

posted by: new havener on May 10, 2018  12:05am

well, wendy, in our capitalist society, I’m guessing you’re ok with socialism??

posted by: Atwater on May 10, 2018  10:23am

New Havener: Socialism, yes, but Socialism isn’t what Wendy is advocating or what the woman in this article represents. Sadly, this woman represents a system that helps engender systemic and perpetual poverty and thus creates a dependency on the State that is difficult to understand and/or empathize with. It is easy to just blame this woman for her perceived apathy, but it’s really not fair to do so. While personal responsibility does play a role in her predicament, it is surely not the sole factor. Instead of judging her and blaming her, we should work to restructure the systems of economy and society so that there is a more equitable distribution of opportunity. Unfortunately City officials, State officials and Federal officials are uninterested in systemic change and would rather keep the poor dependent and impotent (and poor).

posted by: elmcityresident on May 10, 2018  11:54am

she’s too comfortable were she’s at which is sad brookside is WAY better than church st south I can’t even believe she didn’t take the section 8 voucher that many people would love to have. are her children not talking with her??? she can take that voucher and move ANY WHERE are you kidding me!!!Are her children not helping her??? 


@theNEWnewhaven you made me smile cause you know ST Ronan street will have a FIT if section 8 comes that way

posted by: theNEWnewhaven on May 10, 2018  1:32pm

Wendy,

I am kind, I have compassion.

Denying a voucher for ANY reason, denying places like BROOKSIDE for any reason…. it shows how entitled she is.

A mindset that this state continues to reinforce.

Enough is enough, You are NOT entitled to anything in life. Especially a lifetime of subsidies WITH a picky undertone.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 10, 2018  1:58pm

TNNH,

Brookside is not a viable option for several reasons. Principal among those reasons is that the woman highlighted in this article does not own a car and she works on Middletown Avenue in North Haven. Assuming everything goes perfectly with transfers and there are no bus delays, it takes an hour and a half to get from Brookside to her work by via. An hour and a half. One-way. In addition to working a 12-hour shift, you expect her to spend 3+ hours traveling between home and work? Like I said, she is making the best choice by opting for a project-based subsidy in a place like Eastview Terrace, Quinnipiac Terrace, or Farnam Courts, which are located on bus routes that go directly to her job. As nice as it may be, Brookside is not a viable option. Again, this person was perfectly happy at Church Street South, but she was being forced to move because of poor management, inadequate maintenance, and misguided economic development efforts. Be mad at Northland, the City, HUD, or the previous owners of Church Street South, but not her. Please.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on May 10, 2018  2:07pm

Suggestion:

When someone who clearly has not fully read and/or understood the article, and posts a comment rife with inaccuracies and misinformation (such as the notion that a Section 8 voucher is usable at any apartment anywhere in town, as opposed to requiring a landlord who takes Section 8), it would be nice if The Independent itself were to post a clarifying comment (preferably with a link to a definitive source) correcting at least the factual errors and incorrect assumptions behind the comment.

Instead, we have to rely on other readers to do so, resulting (inevitably) in YES IT IS—NO IT ISN’T—YES IT IS exchanges among the commenters. 

It’s good to have knowledgeable folks like Jonathan Hopkins chiming in, but it might really be better to have The Independent itself speak up sometimes.

Thank you.

[Ed.: Thanks for the comment. Not sure which factual assertion you felt needed to be corrected. It does seem not everyone understands that tenants were supposed to have the choice between a Section 8 voucher and project-based subsidized unit; it seemed like a question of opinion about whether that’s OK, or whether people should have that choice. One commenter said a person should take what’s available right away; Jonathan offered some of the reasons a person would choose the project-based option. We do try to clear up factual matters. We try to avoid interrupting differences of opinion.]

posted by: Sabrina-in-NewHaven on May 10, 2018  2:53pm

Her holding out is NOT the issue. The issue is that people who are forced to make way for new housing (even when being torn down around them) are not treated as a human being with their own unique issues and set of circumstances. They are given few options and if neither offer suits you, well too bad. The fact that she works 12 hour days leaves little time for her to even look for housing. What these residents deserved was an advocate who would be responsible for making sure that temporary housing was safe, clean and vermin free. Anything less is deplorable. Having worked for an affordable housing nonprofit I KNOW there are better ways to do this. And it would be at the expense of the developer. I don’t know how much money was set aside to fund their moving and housing but it seems like very little. My organization would have never done this but then I was living in a much larger city at the time.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on May 11, 2018  6:51am

A sidebar to the TNNH/Jonathan Hopkins conversation. The way Section 8 is set up concentrates available units in low-income neighborhoods, far from most jobs. The Obama Administration amended the program’s regulations to encourage landlords in middle-income areas to participate. Trump, unsurprisingly, tried to upend these changes. The issue is now in the courts.

posted by: theNEWnewhaven on May 11, 2018  10:35am

This conversation has meaning. Thank you JH for your link!

I agree that this ONE woman is not the problem, obviously.

What I am saying, which is important, is that the timeline residents to be 100% cleared was set for NOVEMBER of 2015.

Then December of the same year.

Deadlines can be pushed back, I understand, but for us to STILL be talking about tenants in this complex in MAY of 2018 is embarrassing.

The city is now THREE YEARS behind in what stands to be THE most crucial redevelopment for the city in years.

How are the rest of you NOT furious with this timeline?

Whoever let this go on as long as they did, especially after multiple offers were denied, should consider a job change.

Or, rather, the city and state should reconsider ALL that don’t see how CRUCIAL projects like this are to the community’s financial health / future.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 11, 2018  12:00pm

Not to toot my own horn, but:

“However, while redevelopment of the entire site seems like the best available option because of its numerous benefits, there are several potential problems that would arise from razing the existing complex and rebuilding entirely anew.

For starters, relocating all 288 current residents in a short amount of time is guaranteed to result in some existing tenants getting housed in many of the region’s numerous substandard slumlord-owned rental units that accept Section 8 vouchers. Not to mention the enormous amount of resources and time that goes into such a relocation endeavor – for reference, it took HANH over 15 years to find 183 scattered site housing units in non-impacted neighborhoods in the wake a 1995 court-ordered settlement resulting from the mismanagement of the Elm Haven high-rises.” - Me, October 2015 (http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/churchstsouth3rdway/)

It’s not a coincidence that bad, unintended outcomes resulted from the large scale redevelopment of Church Street in the 1960s under Urban Renewal AND the redevelopment of Church Street South Housing today. These types of delays, inconveniences, and bad outcomes are the inevitable results of large scale redevelopment projects, which is why they should be undertaken only with great caution and as a last resort - not a first move. That is why I have advocated for surgical demolition, renovation, and new infill construction on this site since 2012. While I understand the appeal of large scale redevelopment projects for the photo ops and legacy-building for the owners, it is not good urbanism, not good humanism, not good long-term planning - it’s short term politics and speculative real estate investing.