Nita and Fred Smith are moving back to Newhallville after a 21-year hiatus in Hamden—back into the arms of dozens of relatives, as a not-for-profit builder moves to stabilize a stretch of the neighborhood.
Bishop Ted Brooks, Nita’s uncle, joined a crowd celebrating, and offered the blessing on, the Smiths’ newly rehabbed home on Huntington Street in a Habitat for Humanity ceremony Sunday afternoon.
Nita Smith said her family moved out of Newhallville when her two children were young. She was seeking a house with more room. She said it had nothing to do with the violence that was rampant in the city at the time. “There’s violence everywhere,” she said. Newhallville has suffered from a new wave of violence over the past few years, resulting in challenges for, among others, Habitat and the families it moves in.
“I have 55 first cousins,” many of them in Newhallville, Nita revealed just before the start of the festivities, in which Habitat for Humanity of Greater New Haven passed the hammer and a Bible to the first-time homeowners, as is the group’s custom.
The Smiths’ home is the 74th the local Habitat chapter has built. This one was spearheaded by Madison Cares, an independent non-profit affiliated with Habitat, which raised $50,000 for the project and whose members put in many hours of work on the house. About half the homes have been built in Newhallville, the other half in the Hill, with a handful in Dixwell, Hamden and Wallingford.
Fred’s side of the family is well-represented in the area, too. He is the brother of City Clerk Ron Smith (pictured). Smith pointed to the multi-family, renter-occupied (and usually absentee landlord-owned) dwelling across the street as the kind of problem that can be ameliorated with the kind of owner-occupied, single family homes Habitat has been building.
Despite the family connections in high places, a Habitat board member assured a reporter that the Smiths had to go through the same blind application process that any other family must undergo. (Click here for the requirements.) Applicants generally must earn between 30 percent and 60 percent of the median income for the New Haven area and be first-time buyers.
The Smiths seemed overjoyed to be back on Sunday. When Fred addressed the dozens of Habitat volunteers, neighbors and relatives gathered on the sidewalk and spilled into Huntington Street. He choked up and told them, “All I can say is, Thank you.”
And they got their wish for a big back yard.
Habitat families are required to put in 400 hours of labor as part of their obtaining their home. Nita said she was looking forward to building a vibrant, homeowner-based community in Newhallville. Two Habitat homes are located right across the street, and several more are scattered around the neighborhood. Habitat Executive Director Bill Casey pointed down the street and said his group will be working on a house at the corner of Newhall and Huntington that’s been abandoned for years.
Bishop Brooks is pastor of Beulah Heights First Pentacostal Church and heads up the Beulah Land Development Corporation, which also builds affordable owner-occupied homes for local families. (Click here for a story about a ribbon-cutting last week). Along with blessing the home and the family, he put in a plug for his project.
“If I got anybody in this crowd that doesn’t want to use the hammer, and don’t want to put in sweat equity, I got a couple of homes ready for you, first-time home buyers. But my advice to you is, grab a hammer, save you some money, put that sweat equity in,” Brooks said to laughter from the crowd. Otherwise, he said, “Come on down to BDC and we got some homes comparable to this. You’ve done a fantastic job, and I commend you all for what you’ve done, and Madison Cares. It’s about working together.”
Casey said this was probably the first time another housing development organization had put in a plug at a Habitat event. “It’s all good,” he added, chuckling.
The Smiths planned to move in on Monday.