Flanked by her two sons, Jabril and Nasrullah Bell, Kym McKoy stood on the porch of her gleaming new home on Lilac Street in Newhallville, preparing to cut a ceremonial ribbon before a large crowd that had just toured the home.
“I left Newhallville 25 years ago, and I decided to come back,” she said. “Not because my mother lives next door, but because I wanted to come back.”
The ceremony and tour were part of a community celebration Saturday of not just McKoy’s renovated new home, but a host of them that have transformed the area around Lilac Street.
Before the ribbon-cutting, volunteers gathered at the Ivy Street Community Garden for clean-up and beautification projects, and for a cookout prepared by the community gardeners.
Some of the volunteers were members of Emerge CT , American Baptist Churches of Connecticut, and the Newhallville Community Resilience Team, which helped organize an afternoon block party. Staff from the not-for-profit Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS, whichh rebuilt the homes and found the buyers, and more than 30 blue-shirted cyclists representing the Bike and Build national touring organization participated, too.
Chelsea Tossing, one of the Bike and Build team leaders, said that Newhallville was the first stop on a two-and-a-half month cross-country road trip that would end in California. The road trip is designed to raise awareness and funds to benefit affordable housing groups across the country.
After a morning of hard work in the community garden and at some street locations, volunteers enjoyed corn on the cob, burgers and hotdogs, before being led on a tour of Newhallville area NHS renovation projects projects by its executive director, Jim Paley. For 35 years NHS has been rescuing beautiful old homes and facilitating home ownership in some of New Haven’s most low-income neighborhoods. To date, the organization has renovated and sold around 450 units to low and moderate-income families and averages 10-12 rehab projects annually.
Saturday’s tour focused on projects on Starr and Bassett streets and Winchester Avenue, then concluded on Lilac Street, where four homes—three rehabs and one new structure—have been completed.
Pastor Donald Morris said Lilac Street “used to be a crack cocaine environment,” noting that fear of being shot or hurt contributed to neighborhood flight and rampant home abandonment. The new Lilac Street homes, beacons of hope and progress, are emblematic of an entire neighborhood that, like the city itself, is working to shed its old reputation as an unlivable community.
Rather than purchasing random homes, NHS works to build revitalization momentum by renovating groups of homes in close proximity on any given block. It is a strategy Paley said he has been using for years, and which grew from intuition and experience.
Stopping with the tour group at the corner of Winchester Avenue and Bassett Street, Paley pointed to a home whose facade had been strategically refreshed pending its full renovation: “People would sit at the traffic light and look at total blight waiting for the light to turn green,” the sides of the house still betraying the severe degree of deterioration.
Paley also noted that area home prices are rising, becoming more competitive, owing to investment groups gobbling up properties as they bet on Newhallville’s future. It’s not an entirely unwelcome development, as long as homes are sold to responsible homeowners, according to Paley.
“Open House” signs on Lilac Street were visible from a good distance. At 28 Lilac, new homeowner Novella Grante, who works at the Yale Medical School, beamed as she walked through the property she would soon call home. Like her neighbor Kym McKoy, Greene (pictured) returned to the neighborhood after having moved away years ago. “I’m tired of renting,” she said, explaining that homes in Newhallville are once again becoming more “family-owned.”
As Mayor Toni Harp arrived to tour McKoy’s new home and comment at the ribbon-cutting ceremony alongside U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Paley had a brief opportunity to speak with the mayor about a disturbing and “disgusting” development only yards from some of the sparkling NHS homes. Paley pointed to the proliferation of bulk trash, recycling bins and open garbage bags that have been languishing on the street, a situation he described as “demoralizing” to new homeowners and investors. “This has to be a more collaborative effort. We can’t do it all,” he said.
Harp agreed. “The city has an obligation, and there are actions we can take. I’m committed to taking action,” she said.
Exterior environs notwithstanding, it was all smiles as folks toured McKoy’s new house.
Delauro offered decorating ideas to McKoy ...
... as McKoy’s son Jabril, 12, emerged from a newly discovered, secret hiding place.
Congratulatory hugs were offered from DeLauro as Jim Paley, the visionary who has brought many of these special moments to fruition, stood witness.