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River Street Vision Pitched

by Thomas MacMillan | May 2, 2014 3:04 pm

(20) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: City Hall, Housing, Fair Haven

Anti-homelessness advocates met with the mayor Friday afternoon to pitch an ambitious plan for a new, all-encompassing, multi-million-dollar facility on River Street.

About two dozen activists and homeless people gathered in a second-floor meeting room in City Hall Friday. They met with Mayor Toni Harp, her chief of staff, the head of the Community Services Administration, and top housing authority officials Karen DuBois-Walton and Jimmy Miller.

Marcey Jones (pictured at the top of the story), Wendy Hamilton, and Yul Watley (pictured above), organizers behind the proposed new project, laid out the details of their vision.

They want the city to let them build on a couple acres of a nine-acre parcel at 109 River Street, now mostly vacant lots. The new facility would include all-in-one office space, housing for 150 homeless people, a free health clinic, and a farm. 

Watley said the project could cost $15 million to $20 million. Jones put the figure at $3 million to $5 million. They don’t have a developer and said they don’t yet know where they would find funding.

“It seems like you’ve done a lot of thinking,” said Mayor Harp. “I take it very seriously.”

Harp said she would form a team of city staffers to look into the proposal. “That’s my commitment to you.”

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posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 2, 2014  3:34pm

Why is this being pitched in New Haven? Isn’t it about time a facility like this is built in one of the other 12 towns in the region?

posted by: wendy1 on May 2, 2014  3:37pm

Our goal was to get city permission to use vacant land (8.5 acres) on River St. The city would retain ownership forever while we built a SRO style housing project with Free Med Clinic and social work office on-site staffed by local schools.  The homeless themselves would help construct and run this project like the Delancey Street Foundation (natl. homeless).  The building should be paid for by the Fed. govt.  We consulted with 2 developers who only use Fed and state $$.  The antique buildings on River St. are lovable but useless for human occupation according to a developer we walked the site with.  A disc of photos has been offered to the mayor and I will make sure she gets it.  I will volunteer for all phases of this project if the city says yes.  Economically and politically there are advantages to a project on city-owned land that will house over a hundred indigent men and women. We don’t need parking lots or garages 1/2 block from the Chapel St. bus line.  River St. starts at Criscuolo Park with the big windmill and runs from James St. to Ferry St.

NO one knows exactly how much it will cost to build, but it will be soul-satisfying.

posted by: Dwightstreeter on May 2, 2014  4:06pm

Chronic homelessness is a problem that can be solved.

The River St. location would have services at the ground level and levels of housing, from temporary to permanent, above. This follows a successful model used in Rhode Island.

The location is near a bus line and a public park.

Right now the area is vacant. The City owns it, but the toxic landfill must be dealt with eventually.

This kind of development would generate jobs, revive a forgotten section of town and most importantly, show our compassion for our fellow human beings in need.

Gloria Steinem’s biggest fear used to be that she’d be a bag lady one day. It could happen to anyone.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on May 2, 2014  4:21pm

I have heard this idea before and think it is a great one. This location is perfect. And this can be the start to development.

posted by: Martha Smith on May 2, 2014  5:46pm

Unfortunately, this location is in a flood zone, hardly an ideal place for vulnerable people.

And I agree with Jonathan Hopkins that there are a number of other towns in the region that shamelessly look the other way when the need for low income housing is mentioned.

posted by: TheMadcap on May 3, 2014  12:40pm

@Jonathan Hopkins

Aside from the fact those towns obviously don’t want the homeless there, somehow I doubt the homeless want to be in those towns either. Most of the services the homeless use are already in NH, and being in suburb for those who don’t own a car is pretty terrible.

posted by: fk on May 4, 2014  9:31am

Some of the surrounding towns need to start paying for these services.  The suburbs develop land and increase their tax base.  We develop land and our taxes continue to go up.  If these people want to develop this they should, at the very least find a way to pay the city the money that should be paid in property taxes. 

In deciding whether to approve such a proposal, we need to look at not only their ability to pay for the building but their ability to pay for all of their operations in the long term, including the added security,mental health care etc that would go along with this.  Otherwise the city will end up footing the bill to deal with somebody else’s mess later on.  This could turn into on other housing project and I think that people are realizing that it was never a good idea to house all the people with the worst problems all in once place.

posted by: ChrisTheContractor on May 4, 2014  9:52am

An ideal solution for a location like this would be a development using shipping containers. An 8x40 container would give you two SRO units.
They are attractive (in their own way), fire, flood and hurricane proof. They can be prefabricated off site.
You will find that many homeless do not want to go to shelters because of privacy, safety and the security of what little you have.
If the site has environmental issues these can use an alternative foundation system that will not require extensive excavation.
If someone found a permanent solution to homelessness then you could dismantle them for recycling.
Your cost per unit would be far less than regular brick and mortar buildings.

posted by: anonymous1 on May 4, 2014  12:49pm

In response to some of the other comments, this is not a “forgotten part of town” nor is it a “perfect location” for a homeless shelter. There are existing businesses here, businesses that actually pay property taxes to New Haven.  Hasn’t the city been spending a lot of time and money to develop this area?  Here’s the header to a press release put out by New Haven’s Economic Development office not so long ago:

CITY OF NEW HAVEN CONTINUES TO MAKE INVESTMENTS IN PUBLIC INFRASTRUCTURE TO ATTRACT NEW BUSINESS INVESTMENT AND JOB CREATION IN THE RIVER STREET AREA IN FAIR HAVEN

How will this proposed facility attract new business investment?

posted by: Dwightstreeter on May 4, 2014  1:55pm

This City owned land is a virtual wasteland at the moment. The cost of remediation (See articles on the English Station power plant) will require federal funds before anything can be built there.

The City has failed to find a developer for how many years?

So your objection is what? Is there someone waiting in the wings who wants to buy and develop the property?

I think not.

The City’s strategy did not work out.

The advocates have identified a need, a place that can make that need and they are willing to chase after the funding to make it happen.

All the City has to do is deed it to an appropriate entity for $1.00 with appropriate conditions.

I see it as a win/win.

Or does anonymous prefer the status quo?

posted by: anonymous1 on May 4, 2014  3:34pm

Dwightstreeter:

What do you think is the “status quo”?  The status quo for me is that I work in a business located in what you call the “forgotten section” of town.  My boss and the other business owners in that neighborhood don’t forget to pay the city’s high taxes and high insurance rates; they don’t forget to clean up all the litter and illegal dumping that happens almost every day.  More businesses in that area would help; a homeless shelter wouldn’t.

posted by: NHbusiness on May 4, 2014  4:14pm

In response to the anonymous Dwightstreeter: first off, the proposed site is about a mile away English Station. Second, River street’s lack of new development is due to many issues. It’s in a flood zone, it’s vulnerable to hurricane wind damage and storm surge, insurance is almost unobtainable, it’s zoned for heavy industry, etc.  The chances of getting federal, state and/or DEP money for this project is nil. They’d rather pay for the remediation and turn it all into parkland and be done with it once and for all.

If you’re interested in upsetting the status quo, then advocate for taxing Yale (but perhaps you’re Yale affiliated). According to Yale’s 2013 financial report, their assets, “Land, buildings and equipment, net of accumulated depreciation 4,347,257,000”, if subject to the 40.80 mill rate would generate $177 million in property taxes. That money would not only lower the tax burden of existing homeowners and businesses but also provide enough to service the homeless population without concentrating them on a flood prone brown field vulnerable to storm surge.

posted by: TheMadcap on May 4, 2014  5:23pm

Taxing Yale isn’t an option.

Like it’s literally not an option until you change the state constitution.

posted by: Stylo on May 4, 2014  6:24pm

Yale makes a voluntary payment to the city. I believe it’s around $50 million, so still well short of what their property tax would be. Still, better than nothing and they don’t have to do it. It helps buy political influence for sure.

posted by: Stylo on May 4, 2014  6:26pm

OK, nevermind. I totally exaggerated that number. It’s under $10 million. Again, better than nothing - but kind of sad when you know how much the institution has ($20B+ endowment) and how much they could help the city budget and don’t. It’s a big scam that private institutions don’t pay property tax IMO.

posted by: wendy1 on May 4, 2014  6:28pm

I am willing to meet with any and all doubters.  Myself and others are not giving up on River St.  If you have the guts, call me and find out why.  203 498 7759

posted by: Dwightstreeter on May 4, 2014  8:51pm

To MadCap:

Contact Wendy1 at her # and get a copy of the 1985 Tax Commission Report re: taxing wealthy non-profits (Yale and the Hospital), then go to Yale U’s website and read the history of the tax exemption (that allows for taxation over a certain amount of income or assets) and join the growing wave of support to make wealthy non-profits pay their fair share.

As an alternative, support the reverse PILOT.

posted by: anonymous1 on May 4, 2014  8:52pm

wendy1:

Doubters?  What are we doubting?  That the sea levels are rising?  That River Street is a flood zone?  That this area is polluted? 

I doubt the feasibility of such a project in a business zone.  Furthermore, the tone of your reply is very threatening; “if you have the guts” is usually what a thug would say before he/she beats someone up.  I won’t be calling.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 5, 2014  10:59am

Dwightstreeter wendy1,

If you really have the 1985 Tax Commission Report can you please digitally scan it and put it online so that it can be openly accessed by the public?

This paper cites that Report:
http://tinyurl.com/jwtgf6d

posted by: wendy1 on May 5, 2014  12:32pm

@ anonymous—that’s why you’re anon. and I’m not.

@ Jonathan—I dont have a scanner but you can call me and I can hand you a paper copy (photocopy) or mail you one.

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