Shelter Change Draws Local Opposition

Thomas Breen photoA plan to change a small Hill homeless shelter into a rent-subsidized residence for young people who have aged out of the foster care system is meeting with opposition from neighbors worried about parking and crime problems.

That opposition surfaced at a Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) public hearing at 200 Orange St. on Tuesday night on New Reach Inc.’s request to convert its Careway Shelter at 223 Portsea St. in the Hill’s Trowbridge Square area into a more conventional affordable housing residence for previously homeless and at-risk young women.

New Reach came up with the new plan two years after losing city funding and embarking on an effort to rethink how to house people who are, have been, or at risk of becoming homeless.

Currently, Careway Shelter acts as an emergency shelter for homeless women and children, providing 10 apartments that each has a capacity for one adult woman and three or four children. Careway Shelter is one of three shelters that New Reach operates, along with Life Haven and Martha’s Place.

Representatives from New Reach were at the BZA on Tuesday requesting a density variance that would allow the organization to repurpose the building from being a shelter (or “rooming house”) to a dwelling unit. They want to maintain the 10 units, where a maximum of five are permitted according to zoning regulations.

They also want a special exception to allow zero on-site parking spaces instead of the 10 that would normally be required at such a residence.

Although the number of rooms would stay the same, the maximum number of people who could live in those units would decrease from 22 to 15 under such a repurposing.

“We are moving from a non-conforming shelter use in the RM-2 zone to a conforming multi-family use,” said New Reach lawyer Lisa Feinberg during the public hearing, citing both the BZA’s 2003 approval of the building for shelter use as well the general principle that supports whenever a building moves from not conforming to conforming with an area’s zoning requirements.

“We’re moving away from a non-conformity, which the state Supreme Court has ruled is independent grounds for the granting of a variance.”

Hill Alder Dolores Colon and former State Rep. Bill Dyson spoke in favor of the change, praising New Reach’s responsible management of the current building and citing the importance of adding more housing in this city for at-risk youth.

“We have a lack of facilities for young people coming out of the foster care programs in our city,” said Colon. “These young people who are 18 years old and have spent their lives in foster care don’t always have the wisdom and the wherewithal to go out and get an apartment. I think we have to show some compassion to these young people, and say that they can live with other people in the neighborhood.”

Three women came to the public hearing on Tuesday night to voice their opposition to New Reach changing the existing shelter into rent-subsidized apartments. Their concerns ranged from the loss of services that support the homeless to a fear of increased crime to a frustration over a lack of available street parking.

One of the women who spoke was Angela Hatley, who grew up in the neighborhood and whose 86-year-old mother currently lives a block away from the building in question.

“We are against the repurposing,” Hatley said. “We’d rather have the nonconforming mission that they have now with the good work that they do than to have them conform to a building that is not beneficial to the neighborhood. This densely residential neighborhood is so close to Yale that it’s considered a Yale parking lot, and parking is already at a premium for the people who live and pay taxes there. Adding no additional parking spots to a building that should have 10 will just exacerbate this issue.”

“We also don’t want to add any more commotion to the neighborhood,” she continued. “The neighborhood needs a respite. We just got the Columbus House to move, which proved to be a sanctuary for people who sit in the park all day, watch everyone coming and going, and then break into neighbors’ homes. We need a respite.”

In response, New Reach Executive Director Kellyann Day noted the difficulties of working with a significantly smaller budget from the city, but also reaffirmed New Reach’s commitment to helping New Haven’s most vulnerable populations.

“I’ve been with the organization for 22 years,” Day said. “And I can assure you that we are an organization that is absolutely, 100-percent mission focused and committed to helping people who are homeless get housed. Since the city of New Haven cut its funding for the Careway shelter two years ago, we have relied on private dollars and department money to continue to operate the building. But we own the building outright. It’s not mortgaged. And so we as an organization need to figure out how to repurpose the building so that it fits into our mission and also fits into the neighborhood.”

The BZA closed the public hearing on the variance use request and referred the parking-related request to the City Plan commission, promising to vote on the issue at next month’s meeting.

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posted by: Hill Resident on February 15, 2017  5:21pm

Three people at a public hearing does not an opposition make. Had this reporter been at the neighborhood management team meeting held last month and attended by over 50 people, where New Reach presented with a request for neighborhood support, you would have heard opposition from only 3 people. They do not represent the Hill. Unfortunately, too often we are met with individuals who seem to have a NIMBY attitude about anything new in their neighborhood ... even if it’s an improvement. New Reach is proposing to turn from ‘non-conforming’ use to ‘conforming; to provide more permanent housing as opposed to a homeless shelter for transients; reduce the occupancy number from 22 to 15. And these young people more than likely will NOT own a car, they can barely pay rent (which is why the units would be rent subsidized) so parking would not be an issue. What, pray tell, is wrong with their proposal? Providing housing for ‘aged-out’ young adults who are trying to get on their feet is a good thing… unless it is in your back yard. Ms. Hatley said ‘we just got the Columbus House to move’ ... the Columbus House is a homeless shelter! So would you want New Reach to continue to operate a homeless shelter or provide a permanent housing opportunity for a young adult who just might on day grow up to be someone’s 86 year old mother? And where would you propose these ‘aged-out’ young adults to go ... Columbus House? We need to stop being so fearful that young people will bring crime to our neighborhoods. We need to stop being so selfish to think that we don’t have young people from the Hill that have gone to foster care and who now having become adults NEED HOUSING. Many in the Hill support this project ... we just didn’t expect these THREE to go to the BZA and oppose it.  New Reach has not been met with opposition in the Hill, it was met at the BZA by three people who only represent themselves, not the Hill.

posted by: Bill Saunders on February 15, 2017  5:22pm

Open up your hearts, Hill Residents…..

posted by: Bill Saunders on February 15, 2017  5:46pm

Hill Resident….

Look at the timing of our posts…. it seems like I am addressing you, but instead we are psychically reinforcing each others sentiments…

It is always that small-minded opposition voice that is given too much ‘creedence’.....

posted by: MyTwoCents on February 15, 2017  6:35pm

NIMBY???  This particular neighborhood has two New Reach shelters, a 75 bed homeless overflow facility operated by Columbus House and a drug treatment facility, all within a 3 1/2 block radius.  They have supported the house for its’ current usage which is a shelter for battered women and children.  To not want this “repurposing”  which will house 18 to 24 year old men and women (even though the article states women, it is both genders that will live there) is not an unreasonable request.

As far as crime, the fact that New Reach will have 24 hour security on site speaks to the fact that they are aware of the potential for problems and are being proactive about it.  Great for that house, are they going to provide security for the rest of the neighborhood?

Hill resident is right.  Three people do not represent an entire neighborhood.  But the 14 signatures they had on a petition opposing that “repurposing”, from people who live on that block should carry some weight.

There should be an ordinance that limits how many of these programs can run within a block of each other.  Share the wealth with the rest of the city.

posted by: MyTwoCents on February 15, 2017  6:44pm

I also was at the neighborhood management team meeting last month when the presentation was made by New Reach for this project.  It is worth noting that they did NOT receive a letter of support from the management team for this project!

posted by: Bill Saunders on February 15, 2017  9:04pm

It looks to me like NEW REACH is trying to adjust their business model in the face of less funding, while keeping their eye on the the long term sustainable impacts that fit in with their organizational mission.

I would think that ‘residents’ would be a positive rather than ‘homeless’. 
The only question is what resources are going to absorb the 22 Bed overflow.

When you give people a chance to people, they often make personal progress.
There are always setbacks—but the truth is there is a real struggle out there that severely lacks the resources needed to address it.  If the mission is about personal growth and long term sustainabitly, embrace it.

Stop the fear mongering.  It shouldn’t work in New Haven.

posted by: Hill Resident on February 16, 2017  1:39am

@ MyTwoCents: You are correct - New Reach did not receive a letter of support from the Management Team. But this management team does not give letters of support to every project that comes before them ... there was question asked how many support the project and there was no VOTE on whether or not a letter would be provided. But again - only 3 people in the room expressed opposition. And no doubt at least one of those people went out and got 14 signatures. I don’t know who the 4 people were but I would imagine you could have gotten at least 15 signatures from the residents of the Portsea property ... 15 people who would benefit from having permanent housing. And this housing would actually reduce the number of recipients of ‘these’ programs and help to put them on the path of becoming stable members of a community - contributing to the stability of the neighborhood. All 18-24 year olds are not criminals - they are, to say the least, our future. And to NOT support them in an effort to become stable members of a community is counterproductive to building thriving neighborhoods. I mean on the one hand, you complain about there being TOO MANY of these types of programs in the Hill (shelters, homeless overflows, drug treatment facilities) but then complain that there are too many homeless people and drug addicts!!! If we don’t provide these young people the opportunity to have somewhere to call home when they age-out then many will be homeless, unable to find employment because they have nowhere to sleep and bathe, become despondent and turn to illicit drug use or criminal activity. THAT is how that works. Young people have a lot to offer a community - time, strength, vitality, new ideas. We have an opportunity to help ‘groom’ good citizens with all our civic mindedness. They WILL live somewhere ... the question is HOW will they live. And how can you positively impact the future of your neighborhoods? By investing in the young. Trust, they are going to outlive us all.

posted by: MyTwoCents on February 16, 2017  9:46pm

@Hill Resident:  There was no discussion at all, at the management team meeting on the subject of the Portsea St property.  During her presentation the lady told us that they didn’t need anything from us and that she was there merely as a courtesy to inform us of their plans.

The discussion was about a $140,000 CDBG (to renovate 3 bathrooms in a shelter they own a block away from the Portsea St building) that New Reach Submitted for a letter of approval from the management team.  The opposition you refer to, were 3 people questioning whether or not that was a lot of money to redo three bathrooms.

And you are absolutely right when you say “this management team does not give letters of support to every project that comes before them ”  I actually remember them turning down the last couple of of programs that wanted to move into the Hill South because the area is oversaturated with these types of programs.

Hill resident, I’m not heartless. but when is enough, enough?  There are areas of this city that don’t have any of these programs located within them, much less having one on almost every block.  As I said before, it’s time to share the wealth!

posted by: Hill Resident on February 17, 2017  11:34am

@ MyTwoCents: We agree on two things. No vote was taken, and no letter of support was requested for THIS.  New Reach did ask for a LOS for a CDBG application for funds to renovate bathrooms. Someone asked why it costs so much to fix up a bathroom, another resident pointed out that this was not a simple residential bathroom reno (avg. cost $3-10k), but a complete overhaul of 3 ‘dormitory style’ bathrooms w/ multiple sinks, toilets & shower stalls to include electrical, carpentry, plumbing, tiling, & that $140k was a legitimate price. But Ms. Hatley DID initiate the ‘discussion’ of the potential parking problems that could be brought on by changing the non-conforming use to conforming use to the Portsea shelter. She commented that that area of the Hill was already ‘a Yale parking lot’ & that the increase in parking would cause problems. To that someone pointed out that the residents would more than likely not own vehicles as they would just be coming out of foster care & not yet employed or have enough income to own a car. She also commented on the potential for increased criminal activity because the facility would now accommodate young adults ‘and you know what that means’. Actually I don’t. Contrary to popular belief, not ALL young people are criminals. Some are striving to be productive members of society & be positive additions to the Hill community. Yes, some members of Hill South have opposed having more social service programs come into the Hill because they feel it is oversaturated. But there are others that feel strongly & have expressed that these programs (homelessness, drug rehab, re-entry, mental health svcs.) also serve many residents of the Hill so why not? Enough will only be enough when WE no longer need these programs. Note: New Reach is ‘sharing the wealth’ by providing housing for the ‘chronically homeless’ in Hamden. But this residence is a long walk from the busline and a substantial distance from any ‘support services’. Good luck to them!

posted by: MyTwoCents on February 19, 2017  1:37pm

@Hill Resident:  As I recall during the management team meeting, NO one spoke out in favor of this shelter other than the people who work at New Reach, who were the ones that mentioned ” residents would more than likely not own vehicles as they would just be coming out of foster care & not yet employed or have enough income to own a car”.

You and I also differ on what we consider “sharing the wealth”  ONE shelter in all of Hamden when they have TWO on consecutive blocks in New Haven’s Hill section is nowhere near equitable!