First 8 Families Return To Brookside

Fifteen years after leaving the West Rock projects, Lisa Daniels stepped into her first brand-new apartment in a reborn Brookside.

“Oh, wow, this is so nice!” were Daniels’ first words as she entered her new apartment two weeks ago.

Daniels (pictured) and her son are among the first eight families to move into Brookside as the first apartments in the new public housing development become ready to rent. The families moved in over the past four weeks to the complex, which has been rising for the past year at the base of West Rock Park along Brookside Avenue.

Meanwhile, two families are buying brand new homes, and more apartments are set to come online in May, as workers complete the first steps of the $200 million West Rock Revitalization Project to redo the Brookside and Rockview projects.

The new landscape reflects the way public housing has changed since “Brookside” became a synonym for “projects” in the mid 20th century. In returning, families are reclaiming of a swath of land with a history of housing generations of families. Not only do the homes offer a new look; they also mix rentals with home-ownership and stores in attempt to create a viable neighborhood, in contrast to the isolated stretch of town that for decades consisted of dense low-income rentals and precious little commerce.

The original Brookside public-housing complex was razed in 2008 after housing families for 50 years. The next-door Rockview projects, across from 295 Wilmot Rd., were razed in 2002. Families who lived there before 1999 were given first dibs on apartments at the new development.

Daniels’ son, now 17, was in kindergarten when they last lived in West Rock. When the city housing authority prepared to take down the projects, the Daniels moved to public housing at McConaughy Terrace on South Genessee Street. Daniels said the complex proved to be a headache: Vents in her apartment brought in cigarette smoke and “whatever else they be smoking” next door. When the ceiling collapsed in her son’s room, they had to move. The area had its share of violence, too.

So she jumped at the chance to move to the sparkling new homes rising in West Rock. On Tuesday afternoon, she showed off her new digs to a reporter—two bedrooms, one and a half baths, deep closets, and even a storage shed out back.

The new apartments have a dishwasher and lots of counter space in the kitchen.

“This is the first time we’ve lived in a house that no one lived in,” Daniels said.

“It feels good,” she said of her new space. “It’s quiet.”

The streets were indeed quiet Tuesday save for the squeals of children on the Clarence Rogers School playground and the sounds of dozens of construction workers on the job.

Adam Forrest and Larry Brown (pictured) of M. Brett Painting in East Lyme slapped a coat of white paint on a porch a block away from Daniels’ home.

Another nine to 15 apartments will open up to tenants by mid-May, according to Joe DeSanti of Digg Construction, who was hired by the city housing authority as the project construction monitor. The first phase of the project, a $43 million effort to build 101 apartments, is set to be completed by the end of June.

Peter Wood, vice president of Michaels Development Co., the project developer, said 29 families who used to live in Brookside and Rockview have applied to return.

In addition to Phase I, construction crews are simultaneously working on the $28 million Phase II of the project, which calls for another 101 apartments. Phase II should be complete by November of 2012, DeSanti said. The Rockview redo is still being financed; construction has not yet begun.

At the same time, local developer and West Rock native Yul Watley is working on a $6 million project to build 20 private homes at Brookside, to be sold to owner-occupiers.

Six are complete so far. New owners have been identified for two of the homes; they plan to close and move in in early May.

All the homes and apartments were designed by Ken Boroson, the New Haven architect behind the revamped Eastview projects in Fair Haven Heights. The apartments have one to four bedrooms. All the utilities are underground.

DeSanti said the project was set back by last year’s severe winter. And it lost a major sub-contractor when New Haven Partitions, which was supposed to do the framing, went out of business. Those factors delayed the project by several months, he said.

The lucky few who have moved in pronounced the homes spacious and clean.

“We know it’s Brookside, but it looks different—better, cleaner, bigger. Everything is new,” said a woman named Darlene, who lives in one of the new apartments with two sons. Like Daniels, she moved to McConaughy Terrace after leaving Brookside 13 years ago to make way for the demolition.

She said at McConaughy Terrace, her two sons shared a room and space was “tight.” Now the boys, ages 11 and 16, have their own rooms.

With all the new space, she said, “they don’t have to argue.”

A visit Tuesday morning found Darlene folding laundry and sweeping the linoleum floor. “It don’t look right if you don’t keep it clean,” she explained.

She said the new space feels “huge.” And the streets are very quiet.

“I love it,” she said. “I hope it stays like this.”

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posted by: NH06515 on April 25, 2012  2:49pm

Am I crazy or does that work out to $425,742.57 per unit for Phase I and $277,227.72 per unit for Phase II?

posted by: Kevin M on April 25, 2012  2:56pm

Wow kudos, I like the traditional design and color selections at least. Now there’s a sense the place is worth caring about by fostering healthy life more so than before. How about that wall on the town lines?

posted by: anonymous on April 25, 2012  3:31pm

Affordable housing is desperately needed in Connecticut.  But affordable housing can’t be viewed in a vacuum.  Unfortunately, this area is still quite isolated from jobs and is located near low-performing schools.  It still will contain a disproportionate number of rental units and low income units. 

Perhaps it would have been better to use the $200,000,000 toward scattered site housing in surrounding towns, or toward mixed-use infill housing along transit routes. At the very least, there should be more than 20 homeownership opportunities.

The Federal Government is funding these types of developments because they want to create healthier and more economically viable cities - two things that would save all taxpayers an enormous amount of money over the long term.  But if this is really their goal, they need to keep working to improve their investment priorities. Of course, this project was initiated many years ago - the new rounds of Federal housing investments should end up being better targeted.

On the bright side, the new complex will be a vast improvement over the old “projects.”  If it is managed well, it should be very safe too. For example, Elm Haven, just behind the Yale campus, went from having 5 or 10 murders per year to having none after it was replaced by Monterey Place.  Perhaps it will help foster a better sense of neighborhood, something that might eventually help lead to better local schools and more transit routes.

posted by: Curious on April 25, 2012  3:59pm

Why is the developer from Jersey, the builder from Alabama, and the painter from East Lyme? 

Did any New Haven company get a piece of this?  What about plumbing, electrical work?  Were any New Haven residents working on this at all?

posted by: HhE on April 25, 2012  10:44pm


Diggs Construction has one of its five offices in Hartford, CT, and is a minority owned business.

From their web site…“Michaels Development Company is the number one affordable housing developer in the nation, having overseen $2.5 billion in development and substantial rehabilitation since 1973.”

M. Brett Painting in East Lyme appears to be a large painting contractor.

I should like to see the NHI look into this.  I suspect the answer to your question is competitive bidding and a sufficient completion bond.

One thing this article alludes to, but does not address directly, is how expensive good housing is.  The cost of this project about $400k per unit for the first half, and nearly $280k per unit for the second half.  (NH06515 I suspect phase II will have smaller units, or that phase I costs include land, paving, and landscaping.) 

Of course, poor housing is even more expensive in terms its social cost and its destiny at the landfill.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on April 29, 2012  4:58pm

While it does cost a lot of money to redevelopment a large area like this, it is inaccurate to calculate the cost on a per unit basis because a large portion of the cost comes from significant infrastructure improvements including an entirely new street network, two new parks and a new bridge over the wetlands.

The American architectural styles revival was a good choice for the redevelopment as it establishes a sense of permanence through rooting the development in history, which is a great way of encouraging a sense of ownership and pride within the development. Architectural design experimentation, while valuable for many reasons, is less guaranteed to have desirable and positive effects especially in a largely subsidized housing development.

With the said, this does bring up the issue as to whether or not this is a best practices approach to affordable housing development or if, as some commenters have already brought up, we should move towards scattered site housing, urban infill, and suburban retrofitting as the primary tools for affordable housing development, which would re-use existing infrastructure like streets, sewers, and powerlines and help offset the costs that might be incured through the environmental clean-up and intricate work that is often associated with working with existing structures.