$2.6 Million Hill Rescue Effort Launched

Melissa Bailey PhotoTwo years after a not-for-profit housing agency abandoned 65 apartments amid financial troubles, Shaquana Shaw and her dad grabbed an airless paint machine and joined a rescue mission.

Shaw and her father Frederick (pictured above) sprayed the walls at 518 Howard Ave., one of the first few houses that Mutual Housing/ NeighborWorks New Horizons is fixing up as part of a $2.6 million effort to pick up the pieces left behind by the former Hill Development Corp.

Mutual Housing began work last month on 65 apartments in 15 buildings in the Hill neighborhood. The agency bought the buildings from foreclosure in November 2011, a year after the Hill Development Corp. dissolved amid financial distress. By the time Mutual Housing took over, the buildings had been neglected for two years, according to executive director Seila Mosquera.

Mosquera said the project has been one of the agency’s most difficult, in part because Mutual Housing inherited rundown buildings and could not always afford to make the repairs tenants requested. Half of the buildings were officially vacant, though many were occupied by squatters, she said. Tenants reported mice growing fat, and major repairs awaiting fixing, as Mutual Housing pulled together the money to launch the rehab effort.

Now relief is on the way, Mosquera said.

Diggs Construction, a Hartford-based general construction manager, is overseeing the work on 15 homes on Howard, Putnam, Davenport, Hurlburt and Rosette streets. Scott Pierce, the project superintendent, said the work will be done in phases.

He led the Independent on a tour of two buildings, representing the best and worst of the bunch.

The tour began at 518 Howard, a stately brick, century-old building across the street from the local fire station.

Inside, Shaw and her dad were cleaning up after power-spraying the walls in a three-bedroom apartment spanning the second and third stories of the building. Shaquana Shaw, of Bridgeport, owns Shaw Facilities Development, a subcontractor on the job. Her dad works for her. After tearing out old appliances and carpet from the floor and stairways, the father-daughter team moved to painting.

Mosquera said half of the 13 apartments in that building are vacant; Mutual Housing plans to revamp the vacant ones, then move tenants into them before revamping the others.

The apartments will be made available to families making between 25 and 60 percent of area median income (AMI). Rents will start at $350 for a family of four with an income of $21,000 (25 percent of AMI), and go up to $800 depending on the family’s income.

The work is being paid for with $422,500 in city money from the neighborhood stabilization program, as well as money from the state Department of Economic and Community Development, Enterprise Community Investment, and NeighborWorks America.

So far, demolition has begun on 26 of the 65 apartments, Pierce said. The Howard Avenue building is in the best shape of the bunch.

On the other end of the spectrum sits 27-29 Hurlburt, which will need a gut rehab on the first floor.

As the building sat vacant, intruders broke in and tore out copper pipes, according to Warner Rodriguez, a project manager for Mutual Housing.

Thieves stole not only pipes but the water meters, apparently for their scrap metal value. The thefts led water to flood the floors.

Water stains were still visible on the floors beside an abandoned “Good News Bible.”

One bedroom was adorned with paint ...

... most were adorned with black mold ...

... and debris from the ceilings and walls.

Mosquera said taking over the buildings has been a “bigger undertaking” than even larger projects in Fair Haven, where the agency is transforming several blocks with new homes. That’s because of the added challenge of managing the properties, and addressing tenants’ complaints, after years of neglect, she said.

Mosquera said her agency was approached by people in the Hill community “who didn’t want to see affordable housing go to waste.” After visiting the homes and meeting tenants, she said, “we couldn’t walk away from the mess they were in.”

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posted by: Scot on April 29, 2013  12:50pm

It’s surprising to me that with the under-employment we have in New Haven, we need to hire construction contractors from Hartford, and painting crews from Bridgeport to fix up New Haven buildings.  Refurbishing rundown apartments doesn’t seem like work that would require a very specialized skillset.  Just seems strange that each day folks are getting up in Bridgeport, or Hartford, getting in their cars/vans/trucks hopping on the highway for 45 minutes to get to New Haven to do demolition, painting, cleaning, etc. Nothing against Bridgeport or Hartford, but would love to see New Haven people doing this work.

posted by: anonymous on April 29, 2013  5:35pm

Good point, Scot.  There are many examples of local purchasing programs. 

We need a strong local advocacy group to track what proportion of Yale and City purchases go to local vendors, and whether those figures are increasing or decreasing over time.

Aside from purchasing, an even bigger impact would be seen if the city employees themselves lived here.  That’s something we have more control over, and if more of our employees lived in New Haven, they might be more likely to buy other services from their neighbors, too.

posted by: AMDC on April 29, 2013  7:29pm

Oh Boy!  Another multimillion dollar project to “Save”  the Hill.  When is it time to throw in the towel and knock the blight down? How many contractors and “Non-Profits”  have to get rich fixing a problem that can’t be fixed?  Must New Haven be bled dry to save neighborhoods that are done/finished/kaput.
And while they “save” the Hill,  the East Shore deteriorates.  Or is that how we will all be “equal” at last?  Equally destroyed;that is. What a shame.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on April 30, 2013  3:55pm

Are we looking at the same building? That is the Robert Dubois building. Built in 1892, it is a Queen Anne/Colonial Revival style row house development that, along with 625 Congress Avenue, represent some of the highest quality housing stock in the Hill - comparable to other row developments around Wooster Square and Orange Street. While its unfortunate that this building has suffered from poor maintenance over the years and what appears to be hack-job renovations, the bones are still good and we should be celebrating its rehabilitation.

posted by: swatty on April 30, 2013  7:17pm

Thanks for the observations Scot. Very good point indeed.

posted by: AMDC on May 1, 2013  5:50am

Tax dollars should not be used to develop what is or will become private property.  And people who work for govt should not be constrained to live anywhere.  I disagree with this punitive measure.  It seems like the NHI is a great forum for those who have an ax to grind against some particular group. Maybe it’s just me but I always get a sense of resentment toward anyone outside of NH who works or plays in NH. Love/Hate?  Need them but resent them?  Fine but don’t use taxpayer dollars to fix massive issues in NH that money will never really be able to fix.