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$30M Farnam Courts Redo Aims High

by Thomas MacMillan | Aug 23, 2012 7:09 am

(28) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Housing

Tise Design Associates With a new developer on board for the proposed overhaul of Farnam Courts, the housing authority is looking to take the crime-ridden housing project in a new direction—less “family development” and more of an apartment tower like 360 State.

The board of the Housing Authority of New Haven (HANH) Tuesday evening voted unanimously to hire Trinity Financial to redevelop Ribicoff Cottages in West Rock and Farnam Courts on Grand Avenue. Trinity has partnered with HANH on several other projects in town.

To accommodate displaced families, HANH plans to convert the old Cott soda factory at Chatham and Ferry Street into homes, as well as build more housing at Eastview Terrace.

For months, the authority has been working on plans for tear-down and rebuild of the 70-year-old 244-unit housing complex. Tuesday’s approval marks a step forward in that process, which is still about five years away from completion, said HANH director Karen DuBois-Walton.

Thomas MacMillan Photo The meeting’s discussion—and unveiling of a conceptual drawing—offered some preliminary ideas of what a re-imagined and rebuilt Farnam Courts might look like.

Farnam Courts sits in an industrial part of Grand Avenue that’s cut off from Wooster Square by I-91. In place of what is now a low-slung complex of adjoined homes and courtyards, the authority aims to erect a multi-story, apartment building that could have greenspace on the roof, like 360 State, the new luxury apartment tower downtown. DuBois-Walton said such a structure would be more in keeping with the surrounding “light industrial” neighborhood and would dovetail with city plans for the improvement of the Mill River district and the stretch of Grand Avenue between the river and downtown.

The new tower would have 360 apartments, an expansion from the 244 units at the current Farnam Courts, DuBois-Walton said. Instead of warehousing poor people like the failed Elm Haven projects in Dixwell, the Farnam redo aims to house people of mixed income.

The redevelopment would contrast with other recent Housing Authority rebuilds like Q Terrace and the new Brookside. Those projects have been redesigned to feel more like collections of colorful family homes, with individual patios, porches, and lawns.

That kind of “family development” didn’t work at Farnam Courts, DuBois-Walton said. To try to recreate it would make an “island” of such homes in what is otherwise an industrial area that’s “not ideal for families,” she said. 

360 State is fully leased out, DuBois-Walton said, indicating that demand exists for that kind of one- and two-bedroom apartment housing.

As part of the redevelopment, the housing authority plans to create homes for families at two other locations. The authority will put up new housing at what is now a grassy area near its Eastview Terrace project. And it will be converting the old Cott soda factory in Chatham Square into housing, DuBois-Walton said.

All together, the plan will cost some $30 million. Plan A for financing is winning a federal Choice Neighborhoods Initiative grant, DuBois-Walton said. Plan B is bonding, tax credits, and private developer equity.

The new apartment building could include retail on the first floor, and the conceptual drawing shows industrial buildings constructed in the rear of the site.

Gabby Geller, a project manager with Trinity, said she aims to start work next summer.

As with other housing authority redevelopments, HANH would find new housing for all current Farnam Courts tenants, who would have the option to return once the new building is complete.

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posted by: robn on August 23, 2012  7:27am

(sound of an eraser hitting the drafting table)

posted by: FrontStreet on August 23, 2012  8:00am

That’s an interesting idea.  Fair Haven really doesn’t have enough low income housing so nice for city developers to move Farnham Court families into the neighborhood.  I wonder if there are any apartments in the East Rock neighborhood that might accomodate these families?  Probably not…

posted by: anonymous on August 23, 2012  9:03am

Why are displaced families being moved to one of the poorest areas of the city? 

Shouldn’t they be offered housing in Branford, Milford, Hamden, or North Haven, which have healthier neighborhoods, plenty of jobs, and higher-performing schools.  As a bonus, these areas also have been seeing a huge exodus of young families, unlike New Haven, which is seeing a very rapid growth in its population of young children (and needs to build more K-5 schools).

There are always some anecdotal exceptions, but this policy seems to be designed to ensure that these kids are doomed to failure. Poor family + Poor school + Poor neighborhood = low probability of future success, high probability of prison and a life expectancy that’s 10 or 20 years shorter than the kids growing up in Branford. 

At least the housing will be better than what’s there now, so I suppose we can give this plan a D- instead of an F. But “better than what’s there now” is a pretty low bar.

If we stick with the plan, the developer at the very least should be required to fund extra academic enrichment programs and summer camps for the children who are being relocated.

posted by: SaveOurCity on August 23, 2012  9:04am

Financing?  Better stick with the plan to get money from the Feds.  No developer (or pension fund) is going to put money into a project like this after watching the bait and switch the city pulled at 360 State.

posted by: Threefifths on August 23, 2012  9:09am

Again.Snake -Oil being sold to the people.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ww2JEQXezhA

This is noting more the the head of urban gentrification coming in.

Read Dr. Mindy Fullilove book call Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America and What We Can Do About It. 

http://books.google.com/books/about/Root_Shock.html?id=-oumVM9qzb8C

Also read There goes the hood by Lance Freeman.

http://escholarship.org/uc/item/1jd03499

But you all will keep voting them in.

posted by: Curious on August 23, 2012  9:28am

Better nail down that tax plan now.  I wonder if any lessons from 360 State will be learned at all, or if we’ll see the same mismanagement here. 

Will we be getting a grocery store here, too?  Maybe an expansion of Elm City Coop?

posted by: John Fitzpatrick on August 23, 2012  9:35am

Wait a second. Is there any reason to believe that this won’t become another Elm Haven? Any reason at all to think that this will somehow turn out differently? Shouldn’t we expect the same design to produce the same results?

posted by: writewrong on August 23, 2012  9:35am

Two words….Pruitt Igoe. Look it up.

posted by: HhE on August 23, 2012  9:54am

The counter question I posse is this, why does the city consign so many prime locations to subsidised housing?  A location across from the train station, an easy walk to the 9th Square and its amenities, could be a high rent district with desirable shopping (look at how much successful retail space is in Grand Central and DC’s Union Station).

posted by: JustAnotherTaxPayer on August 23, 2012  9:55am

Just two words, Elm Haven. When it was planned and opened it was a model neighborhood designed by people who could not predict the future. Economists are worse than weathermen, and politicians seeking federal housing funds are just driven by planning projects that bring lots of money to them, not the city.

Elm Haven slowly was driven into a horrible place, where every elevator, stairwell, and hallway smelled of urine. Where law abiding residents were hostages in their own apartments, and police were targets for teenagers with guns shooting down on them as they approached the buildings.

With the onset of illegal narcotics from the mid-seventies to the nineteen ninetees, drug gangs run by specific families controlled those towers, and bred several generations of gun toting teenagers that became a threat to every citizen throughout the city.

What type of magic pill are thaese planners taking. this is just another breeding ground for social dysfunction, and no amount of psycho-social babble will change that. Watch the presentation on the proposed experimental methods, brought to you by the great Yale think tank, for controling human behavior within this tower, as it will sound reasonable and sensable but history hs proven them wrong at every turn with this type of housing.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on August 23, 2012  10:54am

@writewrong
that is all that I could think of when reading this!

posted by: yz on August 23, 2012  10:57am

@ Curious. Ferraro’s market is right across the street from Farnam Courts.

It doesn’t matter how they build the project. It’ll still be a housing project in a bad location.

posted by: Eva G on August 23, 2012  12:14pm

WriteWrong and HhE, I echo your comments. This seems like an odd choice of plans.

posted by: new havener on August 23, 2012  2:36pm

hhe, the location across from the train station is desiganted to be high-end for mass-transites…anything is better than the current high-rise on union ave & the ‘concrete jungle’

now, as far as farnham courts…they were just rehabbed in the early ‘90’s to put the new entrances on and take away the pee-stained and stench of the common stairwells…why would HANH throw more good money after bad by going back to high-rises and common stairways…this is a disaster in the making.

posted by: just my view on August 23, 2012  2:40pm

@JustAnotherTaxPayer - that was the first thing I thought of. Ashmun Street and Canal Street were horrible, unsafe, dangerous buildings. this reminds me of the same concept. Bad idea.

posted by: shadesofzero on August 23, 2012  2:52pm

The problem is that public housing projects, no matter how nice and how pie-in-the-sky, are still public housing projects.  It is simply difficult to maintain a high level of quality with low-income tenants.  No matter what the city does, there’s still going to be plenty of opportunities for crime to continue to be a problem.

It’d be nice if there was a better way, but I don’t think it exists, sadly.

posted by: SaveOurCity on August 23, 2012  3:21pm

We’re missing a very obvious solution——build this in Guilford.

posted by: PH on August 23, 2012  4:02pm

Why would anyone build such a tower in such an isolated location?  Farnam Courts is awful because its location is awful: the dead-end streets provide criminals protection from police sightlines, it is practically on top of the interstate and the surrounding area is industrial. 

If you want to build a mixed-income tower, build it downtown where people actually want to live.  A mixed-income tower at the site of Farnam Courts is going to be like a Cabrini-Green of New Haven. Nobody will cry over Farnam being ripped down but it should not be replaced on-site by anything residential.

posted by: Yaakov on August 23, 2012  4:42pm

Can anyone explain why this can’t be built in North Haven, Guilford, or Woodbridge?

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on August 23, 2012  5:32pm

The reason that the housing authority is planning to rebuild on this site is for the same reason that they are rebuilding at West Rock - the land is already publicly owned. To build elsewhere would likely demand the purchasing of private land and the possible demolition of existing buildings which would 1)be costly, 2) remove taxable land from the grandlist, and 3) generate little to no revenue to pay for the land acquisition costs over time.

Perhaps the city could rezone the Farnam Court lot for light-industrial and sell it privately, then use the revenue to buy property in a better location and/or do some scattered site housing. My guess though is that any land in a more desiable location will cost more than what the existing site could be sold for.

A tower isn’t necessarily a bad idea. There are several elderly public housing towers in the city that work reasonable well so long as they are maintained, supervised and patrolled adequately. It also sounds like the city wants to split the existing residents between new housing in Eastview Terrace, new apartments on Ferry Street and some returning residents to a new tower along with non-subsidized residents. So if we assume that 1/3 of Farnam Courts 244 households go to Eastview and another 1/3 goes to Ferry Street, then that would leave about 80 families retuning to the tower in addition to about 280 units that could be market-rate apartments. That would mean that about only 20-25% of the building would be public housing. For a comparison, the Residences at Ninth Square apartment building at the corner of Orange and Crown is 40% affordable housing.

Some issues:
Eastview Terrace and Fair Haven need more market rate, owner-occupied housing, not family public housing units.

360 State and Ninth Square work because of their location - a quality that Farnam Court doesn’t share.

The current proposal calls for not only the site being surrounding by light-industrial and commercial buildings, but the building within the site as well, which doesn’t seem like an improvement.

There are better ways to provide parking than each individual building having its own dedicated road access and parking lot. What about shared facilities?

posted by: mm on August 23, 2012  7:49pm

@Yaakov
Yes, start with the zoning laws in those suburbs. Then add in the lack of public transit. Most Public housing project tenants don’t own cars. Next the lack of social services for those housing project residents who would have to travel into New Haven to receive the services. And, maybe they don’t want to be forcibly located away from friends, relatives and schoolmates.
Way back in the early 1960s, Mayor Lee cleared the slums by forcibly relocating low income residents to Bridgeport and Waterbury.  Many came right back to be with their friends, family and houses of worship.

It’s one thing to have affordable housing available in suburbs, another to force people to relocate to what will be a ghetto inside the town limits of a suburb.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on August 23, 2012  11:53pm

I share the doubts and concerns of many of those who have posted here, but I would point out that at least as it is depicted in the sketch, the proposed apartment building is hardly a “tower.”  It’s relatively wide, low-rise apartment building.  And the article does address some of those expressed concerns when it cites the industrial nature of the area is a reason why they are giving up on trying to make the tract workable as housing for families with children.  I assume that means it won’t include families with teens either; maybe that will cut down on the chaos and violence that come along with bored jobless teens in the projects.  It is supposed to be mixed-income so maybe they will be looking for young singles (students? artists? folks working in the industrial sites nearby?  people working in the clubs on East Street?) and elderly.

Retail on site is also incredibly important.  The faux suburban ambience of places like Brookside and Eastern Circle was just incredibly stupid for people with several children and often no reliable car.  How were these folks supposed to shop, do errands, job hunt, take their kids to the doctor, etc. etc. etc.?  Each of those becomes a herculean task.  How were the teenagers supposed to find anything to do instead of roaming around bored and getting into trouble?  A few green lawns (that don’t stay green anyway) do not create a workable wholesome community.  You need accessible services, preferably walkable.  I think there should have been more retail built into the new Monterey Place and Q Terrace, too.

Anyway, still lots of questions.  There’s not much of any way to make that site attractive ever since the stupid highway projects in the 60s chopped it all up and turned the streets into dead ends.

posted by: Wildwest on August 24, 2012  7:13am

Pardon my negative skepticism but why exactly are we dumping tons of hard earned tax dollars into something that will be trashed in 10 years?

Please put this money towards education and jobs, this city has its needs and more housing for the “poor” is not on top of the list if you ask me.

posted by: robn on August 24, 2012  10:27am

This diagram could probably be reworked into something more humanely proportioned and partitioned but the real issue is aggregating poor people in one place. The goal should be based upon the 9th Square, mixing subsidized housing with market rate and accepting NO shenanigans from tenants who cause disturbance or damage.

posted by: just my view on August 24, 2012  11:05am

@Gretchen P, “It is supposed to be mixed-income so maybe they will be looking for young singles (students? artists? folks working in the industrial sites nearby?  people working in the clubs on East Street?) and elderly.”
You jest???

@Yaakov - this is a Housing Authority of New Haven (HANH) problem - not a North Haven, Guilford, or Woodbridge concern.

@MikeM - we have a winner.

posted by: anonymous on August 24, 2012  1:18pm

About the area overall & its highways, Gretchen’s quote was featured here:
http://downtownnewhaven.blogspot.com/2012/08/can-new-havens-renewal-of-farnam-courts.html

At the least we should make sure that whatever gets built is compatible with where the city wants to go in the long term. What happened to the “Comprehensive Plan” that Mike Piscitelli wrote? Projects like the widening of Whalley Ave & Route 34 ignore the City’s last plan, from 2003- maybe there’s hope with the new Board of Aldermen that the City will start following its own plan?

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on August 24, 2012  2:25pm

@just my view, I was being mildly facetious.  Glad you picked it up.

@anonymous, it wasn’t my quote featured at your link, it was writewrong’s citation of Pruitt-Igoe.

posted by: BelieveItWhenISeeit on August 28, 2012  11:02pm

@Writewrong…..I Agree completely! Nevermind looking it up. For those who have Netflix watch the Pruit Igoe Myth. You will get some real insight into what we as a society create when we segregate the low income community into fairytale high income housing that they have no means or desire to take pride in or care of.

I for one am all for affordable housing but who are we kidding trying to recreate a High income “tower” into a place that is ridden with crime and filth already.

My comments may seem a bit insensitive, but I will frame my rant by saying that I am a Firefighter in the city and work in the farnam court district. I go into Farnam Courts several times each week and get a rare look into the life inside the project that most readers here would probably never see. What people need to realize is the out of sight out of mind attitude that is taken by the city and the police in reregards to the life and crime inside. Any person brave or stupid enough could go into farnum courts at any time of day and see drugs exchanging hands with money right out on the sidewalk with no shame or regaurd for its impact on the neighborhood. The police wont stop it and why should they care because if your not driving back there your not seeing it, and as long as those that dont belong there dont go drive back there they wont get themselves shot.

My Problem with this plan is this:
As they stand now Farnum courts are low lying buildings with open visible, easy to police courtyards. All the PD would need to do is assign 2-4 officers to a walking beat inside the courtyards and the nonsense would stop. Now tell me, how could, (given they even cared to ) the PD effectively police a 15 story tower?

Also, with few common areas now the farnum courts residents are free to live however they see fit in their own spaces, but with the new plans the few familys who chose to live clean and tidy in their own units will have to put up with the pee stained carpets in their elevator and trash lying around outside their doors.

Remember you can change the building all you want, but if you dont change the players.
Just my$.02

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