Two 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.”