In a move the organization says may be unprecedented nationwide, Habitat for Humanity has opted not to move a new family into a newly built Newhallville home evacuated by its owner. After the woman who lived there fled for fear of her safety, Habitat said it has “put on hold” its plans to build six more homes nearby in close proximity to the Taurus Caf√©.
The home at 526 Winchester Ave. (pictured) won’t necessarily be uprooted from its foundation as announced earlier this week, clarified Bill Casey, the executive director of Habitat’s New Haven chapter. “Moving the house is an option, but we haven’t really looked at” the logistics or added cost.
But the organization has decided the location is not suitable for Habitat families, at least not in the “immediate future.” As it has done in blighted lots across the city, the non-profit affordable housing organization obtained the lot hoping to improve the neighborhood with an owner-occupied, well-made home, an investment set to stabilize and upgrade the area.
Pictures of the remarkable transformation hang in Casey’s office, where he gave an interview Thursday. The woman, selected from a competitive waiting list, worked alongside determined volunteers to turn the vacant lot into a permanent home. She moved in with her kids in April 2006. From the beginning, she had “issues with living on the street,” said Casey. (The woman herself has declined an interview request).
A single mother in a home surrounded by vacant lots, she fought with constant nighttime noise from the Taurus Caf√© (pictured), a windowless neighborhood bar across the street. Cars often blocked her driveway, and “she didn’t get a lot of cooperation from people on the street,” said Casey.
After Habitat joined city officials in a lobbying effort to revoke the Taurus’ liquor license, the Habitat offices were threatened with arson, the woman’s home was burglarized, and she received a threat, Casey said. Those events were the “final piece” in a rough eight months. She gave up the home that she and others had poured hours of labor into, a trim duplex she was on the path to owning at a price of only $500 per month.
After the woman’s experience, Habitat’s New Haven chapter has made a decision it has never had to make before: It has suspended plans to invest in that corner, where the once-commercial, now-blighted “Avenue” meets Thompson Street.
“We don’t feel right” bringing another Habitat family into the home, said Casey. “One family, in one single house in the midst of a lot of vacant properties doesn’t lend itself to a successful outcome.”
The decision to abort plans in this manner is unprecedented in the local chapter’s history, said Casey. New homes and their owners are usually welcomed, even in rough neighborhoods. Casey said conversations with Habitat International led him to believe the situation was unprecedented throughout the organization.
Habitat for Humanity International spokesman Duane Bates couldn’t say for sure if the situation was unprecedented, only that in his five years with the organization he had never heard of a home being abandoned less than a year after the owner moved in. And he certainly hadn’t heard of a home that had to be rolled away to a safer block.
As the legal parting between Habitat and the former homeowner proceeds, Habitat has winterized its abandoned townhouse and secured it, posting yellow signs that read “Keep Out.” (Contrary to what the city’s neighborhood specialist had reported, copper pipes have not been stripped).
What will happen to the vacant home if a Habitat family doesn’t move in? Casey wasn’t sure, but given the agency’s mission of helping low-income working families, he said he would not consider selling the home on the open market.
As for six new homes planned for nearby vacant lots, plans have been “put on hold… We don’t have any plans to come back and build in that area, not immediately.” No families had been selected yet for those proposed homes.
Though Habitat’s vacating that particular block, Casey maintained it would not abandon its 13-year commitment to Newhallville. Plans to rehab one home and build another in a separate area of the neighborhood are still in the works.
“They Should’ve Built a Three-Decker”
Outside the Taurus Thursday afternoon, passersby weighed in on the Habitat home’s unfortunate fate.
“Me, personally, I wouldn’t put a house right there,” weighed in 26-year-old C.J. Walker (pictured), walking down Winchester. He hadn’t heard about the Taurus battle. He doesn’t go there much—“too dark in there”—but he still sees the club as livening up an otherwise dead stretch of street. “I wouldn’t want to see the shit shut down.”
“What? They just built that!” exclaimed one heavily bundled woman passing in the other direction, upon hearing the house had been vacated. She suspected the “chaos” of the Taurus drove the homeowner away.
“These rascals come out after the bar: It’s chaos, it’s the hangout. When it’s the only bar you can go to [in Newhallville], naturally it’s chaos.” To coexist with the nightclub, residents are better up higher off the ground, reckoned the woman, who declined to give her name. “They really should have built a three-decker” instead of a “dainty house.”
Inside the red-lit, not-yet-open Taurus, owner Larry Livingston unloaded a box of Hawaiian Punch. He brought out a faded copy of a news article detailing his struggle to buy the lot where the Habitat home now stands to use as a parking lot. Backed by then-Alderman Willie D. Greene, he gained city approval to use the lot in early 1988, then lost the lot to competitors, according to the Register. Now, he says, the spot is prime real estate. “I know a lot of people who want to buy that house. Why would they take it and move it away?”
Other people who live nearby don’t have complaints with the bar, he said. To prove his point, he rapped on a house two doors away.
“Do you have any problems with the bar?” Livingston called up the steps to a young man.
“No,” came the response.
“It’s quiet in the daytime,” added a next-door neighbor. Summoned by Livingston, she said she had no complaints.
Bar patron Yul Watley (pictured), reached by phone, said the Liquor Control Commission hearings have actually had a positive effect on the club. One recent night, said Watley, a young guy stood selling drugs by the side of the club. A Taurus-goer rolled up beside him: “They already tryin’ to shut my man down, and you’re out here selling drugs!”
Patrons shooed the man away, said Watley. “Since the Liquor Control Commission hearings have been going on, that (drug) problem has been eradicated. The brothers are not having it. The Taurus is the only thing they have left.”
What does Watley think about the placement of Habitat’s house?
“I really truly do believe that they could coexist, but at night when the people come out of the bar, there’s going to be some noise.”