The historic Hamilton Street clock factory will get a new lease as an artists-oriented apartment complex on life now that city alders have struck a deal that balances the city’s need for affordable housing with a developer’s need for taxl relief to make an affordable-housing project viable.
Alders unanimously approved the deal, which will allow for the redevelopment of the factory into 130 affordable apartments that will be known as the “Clock Shop Lofts,” at their most recent board meeting at City Hall Tuesday night. The approval ended a decades-long quest by the city to find a developer and then get approved a deal to clean up the polluted site and revive it.
It resulted from a compromise that saw two sides in often fractious city debates — over building the tax base and over providing affordable housing — find a way to work together quickly without acrimony.
Developer Scott Reed of the Portland, Oregon-based Reed Realty Group, had asked for a 17-year property-tax freeze at the factory’s current taxes of $51,591 and $400,000 in aid from the city to help defray the cost of cleaning up the radium-contaminated site and transforming it into apartments. Tuesday night alders approved instead a seven-year freeze of the tax assessment of just over $1.2 million (which at the current rate brings the annual tax bill to $51,591), along with the $400,000 in city aid.
Also, instead of the complex being a development strictly for artists, it will mostly be affordable housing for anyone who qualifies, with only 44 of the 130 apartments reserved for artists.
In addition to that change, the agreement is contingent upon the complex being occupied by people whose total average incomes do not exceed 60 percent of the area median income or AMI.
That means that there could be some residents who make up to 80 percent of AMI, defined as $70,480 out of an $88,100 benchmark for a family of four per federal affordable housing guidelines, living in the building. But there can’t be more of those higher incomes on average than those on the lower end of the income scale, according to Wooster Square Alder Aaron Greenberg, who also is the non-voting facilitator of the newly appointed Affordable Housing Task Force.
Greenberg said that after the joint public hearing at the beginning of this month where developer Reed indicated that he was open to a compromise as long as it didn’t jeopardize the nearly $37 million he’s put together to fund the project they all got down to “brass tacks” to create an agreement that would “work for them and work for us.”
“We made it clear that the whole board supports this project,” Greenberg said. “It’s a great project for the neighborhood and a really fantastic example of doing what we can to encourage the development of quality affordable housing options.”
Fair Haven Alder Kenneth Reveiz noted that the project was well received when it was presented to the Fair Haven Management Team. Noting his own background in the arts — he’s a poet, playwright, and lyricist—Reveiz said he knows that there is a great need in that community for access to quality affordable housing.
“A lot of my artist friends are struggling with homelessness, struggling to find affordable housing,” he said. “We may have a conception that artists are white, from a liberal arts background, college educated, and not engaged in the community. Artists come with a lot of stereotypes and I think that this project offers a real opportunity for the incredible diversity of artists in New Haven. Artists are black, artists are Latinx, artists are family members and have families and they are among the 10,000 people on the affordable housing waitlist right now.”
The agreement that alders ultimately approved Tuesday is actually a revision of counterproposal suggested by a working group of alders and city finance and economic development staffers. That proposal would have frozen the current property taxes for two years, then phased in an increase at a rate of 10 percent of the improved property’s value over 10 years. That plan also would have opened the door for non-artists to live in the development.
Greenberg said the approved proposal decreases the time period for the abatement from 10 to seven years, meaning the property assessment will be fixed from Oct. 1, 2018, to Oct. 1, 2025. It also decreases the number of artist-only units from 100 percent to approximately 33 percent and all occupants of the property during the course of the abatement the households the total average of whose income does not exceed 60 percent of the area median income.
“We should encourage projects like this one that provide two public goods: 100 percent of the units will be affordable and the building which is long-neglected…that building will be transformed and revived,” he said. “This repurposing of the site perfectly matches the guidelines set out in the city’s own Mill River study adopted by the city plan commission in 2014.”
Downtown Alder Abigail Roth said that given the current state of the building, the reality is there is no time to waste if the building is to be saved and used for something that will ultimately benefit the city.
“I toured the property,” she said. “It is in very bad condition. If nothing happens we are not going to be getting a lot more value from it so this is going to be a big win because after a period of time it will be a much more valuable piece of property in my view.”
Westville Alder Adam Marchand said the “substantial public investment” on the part of the state and the city “is justified because the project will anchor the area and support further development in an area of the city poised for growth; create quality and affordable housing for deserving residents, support the creation of an artistic community in this neighborhood; and preserve an important and historic treasure in our urban landscape.
“Even at difficult times, the city must make strategic investments and this fits that bill,” he added.
Reed agreed wholeheartedly with that sentiment Tuesday saying that the agreement gives the project a “clear pathway forward” for the first seven years, though there will be more work to do on the long-term viability of the development. But the approved agreement does not jeopardize the default provisions required by his lender.
This approval also meets deadlines that he had said previously could have raised the cost of the project if it wasn’t hammered out before June 30. Under the agreement, the apartments will remain affordable for the next 30 years, and would not transfer if Reed ultimately decides to sell the development.
Reed Realty said it plans to be at the table as the city embarks on how best to maintain and encourage the development of more affordable housing units in the city. Reed suggested that the city might over time develop a standard method for assessing property taxes on affordable housing developments—both public and private—that ultimately would encourage development.
But on Tuesday, he was focused on the significant remediation ahead and the eventual renovation work to come.
“Today was a great day,” Reed said. “The city has really provided a lot of support and guidance on this project. This is going to be a great project and I think one that the city is going to be proud of.”
He said he’s looking forward to getting started.
“We were walking through the building today and it doesn’t really need more time on its own,” he said. “It was raining today and we can see where the water is coming in. It’s been on its own for 50 years it’s time to get the necessary repairs done to restore its glory.”