Horace Melton watched movers and shakers break ground Tuesday on a new nine-story tower where he’ll be able to take a shower without anyone’s help—and where his neighbors may include not just other public-housing tenants, but hospital doctors as well.
Melton (pictured with his niece Nyaire) rents one of the 50 apartments occupied at the crumbling William T. Rowe public-housing tower on Howard Avenue across from Yale-New Haven Hospital.
He wheeled up to a tent erected a block away from his home Monday to join a crowd at a groundbreaking for a $36 million tower being built to replace the Rowe building. The new building will have 104 one- and two-bedroom apartments—78 subsidized homes for either elderly or disabled low-income tenants, including those currently at Rowe; and another 26 market-rate (i.e. non-subsidized private) apartments officials hope will rent to hospital employees for $1,100 to $1,400 a month. The complex is being designed by ICON architects (see rendering above).
The project is the latest in a parade of new buildings changing New Haven’s skyline and providing construction jobs (more than 100 in this case) during the recession.
It follows an unusual land-swap deal involving the Housing Authority of New Haven (HANH), Yale-New Haven Hospital, and a private developer, Trinity Financial. The tower will rise on the block next to Career High School, bounded by Sylan Avenue, Ward Street, Howard Avenue, and Legion Avenue. Yale-New Haven owned that land. It’s trading it to HANH in return for the land on Howard Avenue, where the current largely vacant Rowe tower stands. Rowe’s tenants will stay in the old tower until workers complete the new one (projected finish date: fall of 2011); then, when they move into the new tower, HANH will turn the land over the Yale-New Haven for an unspecified medical use.
Tuesday’s groundbreaking, which was delayed amid City Hall infighting, also ushers in an era of hope for Rowe’s remaining elderly and disabled tenants. Only 50 of the rundown tower’s 172 apartments are occupied. Plagued by crime, leaking roofs, and cramped apartments, they have pushed officials for years to improve living conditions. Only 50 of the tower’s 172 apartments are occupied.
They celebrated Tuesday’s news.
Melton, for one, looks forward to having a big enough bathroom so that he can close the door, maneuver out of his wheelchair, and get himself into the bathtub without any help. Many of the current Rowe apartments are efficiencies, without closet space. The new one and two-bedroom apartments will run 700 to 900 square feet.
“I can’t wait” for the new building, Melton said.
Tenants such as Rowe Resident Association President Cameron Taylor participated with officials in planning meetings for the new tower.
“They took the time to listen to us residents,” Taylor, one of 11 speakers at Tuesday’s groundbreaking, told the crowd. “All we want is a decent life and a building to be safe in.”
The process began with less comity. Tenants criticized the housing authority and a private developer, Intercontinental, about their original plans for the block. Intercontinental bought the land behind the Rowe tower and razed all the houses, including a former Black Panther house that neighbors wanted to preserve as a community center.
Then, after tearing down the building, Intercontinental decided it wasn’t going to build the mixed-use development it originally planned. It sold the property to Yale-New Haven Hospital, which subsequently worked out the swap deal with the housing authority.
In addition to promising a happy ending for the tenants, the new tower represents a new approach to public housing in the neighborhood—aiming to mix wealthier tenants with public-housing tenants.
Housing Authority Deputy Director Jimmy Miller said residents, nurses, and doctors will want to rent the new tower’s 26 market-rate apartments, in some cases as second residences, because of their proximity to the hospital. “You might be working the graveyard shift. Who wants to drive to Wallingford at 3 in the morning? It’ll be great.”
He was asked if medical professionals might balk at living in the same tower as public-housing tenants with drug dependency. He responded that the new building’s quality will entice them. Also, the new tower will have more services on site to support disabled tenants, he said.
As for the $1,100 to $1,400 monthly rent? “You’ve got to look at the units downtown at 360 State,” Miller replied. “They’re going for $1,800.”
The housing authority will own the land below the new tower. It will give Trinity Financial, the tower’s developer, a 99-year lease on the land. A private company will manage the facility.
Trinity is building the tower with around $8 million in federal money flowing through HANH, an additional $10 million in federal stimulus dollars, $4 million in city government capital projects money, a $7 million Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA) mortgage, and $7 million in private investment by Enterprise Community Investment fueled by government tax credits purchased by TD Bank, according to Miller.
The project also includes first-floor space for stores and doctor’s offices.