Michael Collins and Dee Johnson were glad to hear the city’s finding a buyer to rescue a vacant house on their block—and they hope the right kind of buyer ends up with it.
Collins and Johnson (pictured) live on Winchester Avenue in Newhallville. They live by plenty of neglected homes with the wrong owners. They also live near some restored older homes with the right owners.
“They should fill them up,” Johnson said of the three apartments at the abandoned house at 679 Winchester. “Everybody needs a place to live.”
“I’d like to see them sell it to a low-income person to step up in their lives,” remarked Collins as the pair sat Thursday afternoon on a stoop two doors down.
“But don’t buy it,” added another friend on the stoop, Shante Davis, “and charge people double.”
City government’s neighborhoods anti-blight agency, the Livable City Initiative (LCI), is wrestling with those kinds of philosophical questions about how best to rebuild neighborhoods as it prepares to sell two abandoned, rundown Winchester Avenue homes foreclosed upon for unpaid taxes. LCI is selling a third foreclosed-upon home on Grand Avenue in Fair Haven.
LCI advertised for bids from potential buyers for the three properties. Eight potential buyers responded by the end-of-July deadline. They include a long-established not-for-profit builder who is seeking to buy the two Newhallville properties; a rising new neighborhood for-profit developer looking to buy all three; a Realtor seeking to use one property to train a tenant to become a homeowner; one of the city’s largest poverty landlords; and three other neighbors or investors looking to buy and live in or rent out a house on Fair Haven’s main commercial strip.
LCI plans to make a final choice, vetted by two committees (LCI’s Property Acquisition and Dispensation Committee and the City Plan Commission), to present to the Board of Alders for final approval by October, said agency Executive Director Erik Johnson.
Picking the right buyer is no easy task. LCI Deputy Director Frank D’Amore said LCI is looking at not just who offers the city the most money, but who has the best renovation plan and the financing and experience to pull it off.
Not-for-profit Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) has its eyes on the two Winchester Avenue properties as part of a larger plan. For years NHS has gut-rehabbed beautiful old homes in the neighborhood, then used tax credits and other help to enable lower-income working families to buy them and live in them. It’s looking to concentrate its work to make a bigger impact on several blocks at a time: It is bidding on the two Winchester Avenue properties to go along with three other houses it has rebuilt and sold on a three-block stretch there, along with four other homes it has purchased or is in the process of purchasing.
“That’s what makes the impact,” NHS chief Jim Paley (at right in above photo) said Thursday.
He happened to be on the block showing the houses to a visitor from Georgia, David Landis. Landis is chief operating officer of a national not-for-profit outfit called Community Housing Capital that helps fund rebuilding projects by not-for-profits like NHS that seek to stabilize neighborhoods with working-family homeowners by keeping sales prices affordable.
NHS offered to pay $11,500 for 609 Winchester (pictured), a one-family house. It would spend $275,000 overall on gutting and rebuilding it, according to the proposal it submitted to LCI. That would cover hard construction costs, lead abatement, and soft costs (like permits and legal fees). Yet NHS would be able to then sell the finished three-bedroom house to a lower-to-moderate-income owner-occupant for only $140,000, it claims, largely by making use of housing tax credits. The proposal states that NHS would be able to use an existing revolving line of credit to finance the project (a promise it made in both its Winchester Avenue proposals), which it promised to complete in 2015 assuming it gains title in 2014.
A group of nearby homeowners who have organized to revive the Winchester Avenue area wrote a letter to LCI supporting NHS’s bid for the two properties.
“It is our deduction: there will not be owners/investors willing to renovate the houses at #609 and #697 Winchester properly. This directly impacts the disposition of tenants they would rent to. Neighborhood Housing Services has acquired and rehabilitated houses in Newhallville for many years. You can discern the positive impact of these beautiful houses on the neighborhood. It is our firm belief, that no other individual or organization will devote the time or resources into properly restoring these two buildings the way that NHS would,” Tammy R. Chapman and Kali Williamson wrote in the letter on behalf of the neighborhood group, called Newhallville Community Matters.
A woman named Mariela Despaigne-Agramonte has her eye on the house, too. She currently lives nearby on Winchester Avenue with her husband and family of foster children. She would pay the city $2,500 for 609 Winchester and spend $95,000 renovating it, she wrote in her proposal.
“I live down the street and saw the house,” she wrote in a letter to LCI. “We need your help to buy a house for our children so each of them can have their own room. I am grateful to God that he is giving me the opportunity to help less fortunate children and provide them a place to call home in this great City of New Haven. ... I want my home to be a refuge for these children.”
A third bidder, Disha Joy Monsanto (pictured), submitted a bid to pay the city $6,500 for 609 Winchester. Her company, A&M Groundbreakers LLC, bid on all three properties for sale.
Monsanto formed her for-profit limited-liability company in 2011, according to state records. The company has been fixing up rundown homes in low-income neighborhoods. It is currently rebuilding a home at 41 Henry St., which it purchased from LCI earlier this year.
“We have purchased houses you couldn’t even walk through the back door” and fixed them, she said. She said her company’s agenda is to fix up homes, “get rid of blight,” “hire people in the community,” and find buyers who will live in the homes. “We don’t want to be landlords,” she said. “Nobody is going to take care of property better than an owner.”
“LCI’s been great to me,” said Monsanto, who lives in New Haven. She said she hires local people for her construction jobs. One of her subcontractors is Rodney Williams, owner of Mr. Rock Drywall on Dixwell Avenue. (Read about Williams here and here.)
LCI’s D’Amore said Monsanto is so far developing a good track record with the first properties she has taken on, including a Gilbert Avenue home she bought from the city.
Phil Denby (pictured), who rents an apartment next door to 609 Winchester (and whose brother ran for mayor last year), said he hopes LCI sells the house to “somebody who’s been struggling all their lives ... low man on the totem pole that’s got a family.”
“A lot of people who don’t live in the neighborhood buy homes in the neighborhood and don’t take care of them,” Denby observed.
Unlike the eight other properties, 679 Winchester, a 3,663-square-foot three-family, would remain all rental apartments rather than be sold to a homeowner if NHS succeeds in buying it from the city. NHS offered the city $26,500 to the city as part of a $440,000 overall gut-rehab proposal. Paley said he’d rent to low- and moderate-income tenants; he said the city has a shortage of quality affordable apartments. “We will have a waiting list a mile long for these apartments” if NHS succeeds in buying and renovating it, he predicted.
Monsanto’s A&M Groundbreakers LLC offered to pay the city $20,000 for the three-family with an eye toward a “sale to owner occupied, with required occupancy term,” she wrote in her proposal.
A third proposal for the property came from Roberta Hoskie’s Outreach Realty Servicing. (Read about her work here and here.) Hoskie (pictured) offered to pay the city $15,000 for the house and spend another $75,000 fixing it up.
The proposal called for making the property part of her company’s first-time homebuyer program, in which it offers tenants “informal homeowner training, credit repair and budgetary classes” so they can eventually buy their houses. The proposal envisions a one-year “hold and training” period for a tenant to eventually buy the house and become an on-site landlord.
The 3,037 square-foot three-family home’s last listed owner was an active land-flipper named Wade Beecher. (Read about him here.)
381 Grand Ave.
Over in Fair Haven, a foreclosed-upon home in much better shape, 381 Grand, drew five bidders. Beecher was the last listed owner of the 3,037 square-foot three-family home.
The highest bidder for the property, Menachem Edelkopf, offered the city $50,000 for the property. His proposal promises to renovate the property within three months of acquisition.
Edelkopf runs Mandy Management, which controls hundreds of rental properties in low-income neighborhoods throughout the city. It has had run-ins with LCI, whose inspectors keep after the company to maintain properties better. (Read about some of that here and here.)
LCI chief Johnson was asked whether Mandy Management’s track record would affect its chances of obtaining the property. “We continue to work collaboratively with Mandy to take better care of properties,” Johnson responded.
“I’m planning to do good for the community. Take a house, fix it up nicely, and put New Haveners to live in there,” Edelkopf said Thursday evening.
Monsanto’s A&M Groundbreakers offered to pay $20,000 for the property with a plan to sell it to someone promising to live in the house for at least five years.
Three other potential buyers submitted bids. Efrain Cano, who rents an apartment on Eastern Street, offered $15,000 so he could “live with my wife” in the house. Frank R. and Frank A. Landolfi offered to pay $28,000 and “update” the property as a two-family residence they would occupy. Rziye Yeroz, who lives on the same block as 381 Grand, offered the city $25,000 for the property, which he said he would rehabilitate “from my own private funds” and a “private mortgage if necessary.”