Finally Empty, Church Street South Ready To Disappear

Paul Bass PhotoThey kept showing Delores Robinson possible new apartments, waiting until she found one where she felt comfortable.

Then, last week, someone stole the copper water piping leading into her apartment. She had a few hours to gather her belongings and move temporarily to the Village Suites on Long Wharf.

And the 50-year-old Church Street South complex finally had no one left living there.

That means demolition will now begin. The city has given the green light to the complex’s owner Northland Investment Corp., which had already begun pre-demolition work, to tear down the crumbling cinderblock 301-unit federally subsidized complex across from Union Station. The demolition is expected to occur over the next two weeks.

Years of federal inspections claimed the complex was safe. But then legal-aid lawsuits and city inspections revealed leaky roofs, deteriorating porches, and rampant mold that made it hard for families to breathe. The city condemned the property. Then two government agencies — the city government’s Livable City Initiative (LCI) and the housing authority’s management and development arm, the Glendower Group — worked for years to find new apartments for the 266 remaining families.

The process took far longer than expected. Robinson was the last tenant in the complex. She didn’t want to leave, though she knew she needed to. She was particular about what part of town she wanted to live in (not out on the fringes, like at Brookside) and what floor (first). She hung on as an Abcon Abatement & Demolition crew begin ripping out the guts of the other 21 buildings and as thieves grabbed the copper in the apartments surrounding hers.

(Click here to read a previous story detailing her final days at the complex.)

She kept trying to keep the thieves out of her apartment in Jose Marti Court; she worried when she was at work at her factory job that they’d nevertheless get in.

Last week they got close enough, stealing the main value and copper piping from the water utility room feeding her apartment, meaning she no longer had running water. Officials told her it was finally time to go.

The housing authority had just shown Robinson an apartment it had made available for her at the newly rebuilt Farnam Court development.

“It was beautiful,” she said. But she would have to take an elevator upstairs. “I specified the ground floor,” she said.

So for now she and five other families remain in motel rooms. This coming week, Robinson said, she has an appointment to see a vacant townhouse unit at the Beechwood Garden Complex at Whalley and Pendleton.

“Mrs. Robinson has a choice of several units,” LCI Executive Director Serena Neal-Sanjurjo said Sunday.

Northland CEO Larry Gottesdiener thanks LCI and the housing authority for their work in finding families new homes.

It “was a complex challenge,” Gottesdiener noted in a release, “and Northland is grateful for the Church Street South families’ patience, understanding, and flexibility throughout the process.”

Once demolition is complete, Northland and the city envision a new mixed-use, mixed-income complex rising on the property with up to 1,000 apartments, 30 percent of them subsidized for lower-income renters.

Key to that plan is obtaining federal or state affordable housing grants. The city has tried twice to obtain a $30 million grant under the federal government’s Project CHOICE program; its application has been rejected both times. The city’s preparing another application, hoping the third time’s the charm.

“We will keep trying,” Neal-Sanjurjo said, “until we get it.”

Previous coverage of Church Street South:
Northland’s Insurer Sues To Stop Paying
Who Broke Church Street South?
Amid Destruction, Last Tenant Holds On
Survey: 48% Of Complex’s Kids Had Asthma
Families Relocated After Ceiling Collapses
Housing Disaster Spawns 4 Lawsuits
20 Last Families Urged To Move Out
Church St. South Refugees Fight Back
Church St. South Transfers 82 Section 8 Units
Tenants Seek A Ticket Back Home
City Teams With Northland To Rebuild
Church Street South Tenants’ Tickets Have Arrived
Church Street South Demolition Begins
This Time, Harp Gets HUD Face Time
Nightmare In 74B
Surprise! Now HUD Flunks Church St. South
Church St. South Tenants Get A Choice
Home-For-Xmas? Not Happening
Now It’s Christmas, Not Thanksgiving
Pols Enlist In Church Street South Fight
Raze? Preserve? Or Renew?
Church Street South Has A Suitor
Northland Faces Class-Action Lawsuit On Church Street South
First Attempt To Help Tenants Shuts Down
Few Details For Left-Behind Tenants
HUD: Help’s Here. Details To Follow
Mixed Signals For Church Street South Families
Church St. South Families Displaced A 2nd Time — For Yale Family Weekend
Church Street South Getting Cleared Out
200 Apartments Identified For Church Street South Families
Northland Asks Housing Authority For Help
Welcome Home
Shoddy Repairs Raise Alarm — & Northland Offer
Northland Gets Default Order — & A New Offer
HUD, Pike Step In
Northland Ordered To Fix Another 17 Roofs
Church Street South Evacuees Crammed In Hotel
Church Street South Endgame: Raze, Rebuild
Harp Blasts Northland, HUD
Flooding Plagues Once-Condemned Apartment
Church Street South Hit With 30 New Orders
Complaints Mount Against Church Street South
City Cracks Down On Church Street South, Again
Complex Flunks Fed Inspection, Rakes In Fed $$
Welcome Home — To Frozen Pipes
City Spotted Deadly Dangers; Feds Gave OK
No One Called 911 | “Hero” Didn’t Hesitate
“New” Church Street South Goes Nowhere Fast
Church Street South Tenants Organize

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posted by: 1644 on June 4, 2018  8:07am

So, what happens if New Haven doesn’t get the $30 million grant?  Can Northland build market-rate, mixed-use as of right, or will the land lie vacant, producing little revenue for the city?

posted by: wendy1 on June 4, 2018  12:01pm

Who’s paying for the motel?
I imagine she’s more likely at Three Judges than La Quinta Suites.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on June 4, 2018  12:40pm

One of the many remarkable things about Church Street South Housing was that 102 of its 301 apartments were accessible at ground level and the remaining 199 apartments were accessible by walking up a flight of stairs. I’m not surprised that Delores would prefer a private walk-up entry like what Church Street South offered over the communal lobby, elevator, and double-loaded corridor to enter an apartment at the new Farnam Courts building. Given the location of Farnam Courts relative to her job, however, I suspect that it may still be a good option. I wish her luck.

Based on Neal-Sanjurjo’s comment that the City will continue to apply for Federal and State grants until they receive them, it is implied that the redevelopment project may be dependent upon those public subsidies to move forward as planned. Those 30% affordable units certainly would need subsidies, but a 100% market rate complex presumably could move forward without public subsidy. Perhaps there are ways the City could hold up the project if it wanted to ensure that 30% of the new units are rented at below market rates. Given the site’s history of dubious use of public subsidies to fund redevelopment projects, one might question the continued use of such subsidies to fund redevelopment today. Personally, I would prefer that if the public is going to subsidize development on the site, it should be to fund rehabilitation work, surgical demolition, and new infill construction and infrastructure on the site rather than yet another redevelopment project.

posted by: wendy1 on June 4, 2018  1:16pm

Village Suites is on Long Wharf and better than the 3 J’s.  Closest food is a decent place, The Olive Tree.

posted by: wendy1 on June 4, 2018  1:19pm

I forgot to mention the amazing $2 breakfasts at IKEA along with cheap groceries, free coffee with a free FAMILY CARD (even if you’re homeless), and good soft serve ice cream cones for $1.

posted by: RobotShlomo on June 4, 2018  1:22pm

There’s a term for this; Demolition by neglect.

So, what happens if New Haven doesn’t get the $30 million grant?  Can Northland build market-rate, mixed-use as of right, or will the land lie vacant, producing little revenue for the city?

Most likely, the same thing that happened when they tore down the neighborhood where the Rt. 34 connector is. The same thing that happened when they tore down the Coliseum. The same thing always happens. Lots of promises about how “it’s going to be different this time, believe us”. And then nothing. Nothing will happen. I fully expect it to be a hole in the ground for the foreseeable future.

posted by: 1644 on June 4, 2018  5:36pm

JH:  Your dream of selective demolition and rehabilitation is crumbling as we write.  Given the mutual animosity between Harp, Malloy and the federal administration,  I just cannot see New Haven getting any competitive, federal grant.  Trump uses government to help friends and hurt enemies, even more than past Presidents.  Nonetheless, I fear Alders like Colon will continue to obstruct productive use of this land which doesn’t comport with her vision of subsidized housing.  The result will be, as with the property to the north,  a huge loss to New Haven’s residents as the land lies vacant.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on June 4, 2018  6:50pm

1644, Church Street South is a Planned Development District (PDD 15). I can’t find the criteria that would apply absent a zone change. But I would be surprised if they would preclude a mixed income development (historically, zoning did not directly specify rent levels). On the other hand, I would also be surprised if the PDD allows mixed uses or substantially greater density or building heights.

I don’t know whether it is economically feasible to redevelop the site at its prior density, either as mixed income or market rate. Certainly, Northland and the city are contemplating a much denser development.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on June 5, 2018  5:37am

Wendy, the city is probably paying the motel costs initially. But under the state’s Uniform Relocation Assistance Act,  if tenants are forced to move as a result of code violations, the landlord (in this case Northland) has to reimburse the city for its costs.

posted by: southwest on June 5, 2018  6:32am

I just want to no how one person can hold up a project that she doesn’t own…She had been shown numerous newly renovated apartments and she refused…reason is I don’t want to ride on a elevator, it’s not on the first floor, to far out..common sense should prevail in cases like this…you want all of this after help was offered to you then buy your own place so you can get what you want or what your money can buy..SMDH the attitude some people have when you try to help them as if you are obligated to work at their demands especially when you have bend over backwards to help them..I really don’t get it…this is what happens when you allow people to demand their needs and they have nothing to give in return…I don’t mind helping people but this is a little over the rim…

posted by: urbancarpenter on June 6, 2018  7:57am

“I specified the ground floor,” she said.

This is what is wrong with helping people. In concept helping people is a wonderful thing but in practice people are the issue. We have created an atmosphere where people feel that they deserve to be helped and are then critical of that help.

I specified waterfront with views of East Rock but I live in West River because that’s what I can afford.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on June 6, 2018  9:39am

southwest and urbancarpenter,

I understand your frustration, but try to think about this from the perspective of the resident. She was perfectly happy in her ground floor apartment across the street from the train station, along the bus route to her job, near Downtown shopping, a library, a post office, and medical offices. As late as October 2014, HUD gave Church Street South Housing a grade of 81/100. Then the following year, HUD and the City told everyone they had to leave. Some residents left on their own to live with family or rent on the private market. Some were temporarily relocated from large apartments to single motel rooms awaiting relocation services because conditions in their apartment were so bad. Others opted for portable Section 8 vouchers which undoubtedly took them farther from Downtown and bus routes and perhaps placed many in slumlord-owned apartments. Some opted for project-based subsidized apartments and were relocated to other developments like Rockview, Brookside, and Eastview Terrace, which are far from Downtown and transportation. A handful of families were relocated to Puerto Rico last year before Hurricane Maria hit the island.

If the City came to your apartment today and told you that you had to leave because an apartment next door had mold issues, would you be happy about it? Do you have friends and family that you can stay with? Would you be happy to move into another apartment farther from work, shopping, and your community? Would you be happy to go to a hotel room with no kitchen for months awaiting relocation services if you needed them?

posted by: 1644 on June 6, 2018  9:59am

JH:  I am pretty sure most of the CSS tenants were placed, at Northland’s expense, in the Village extended stay motel on Long Wharf, where all of the rooms have kitchenettes and sitting areas.  What her expectations were should be based on her lease, which, as I understand, could not be terminated due to lapse of time.  So, so long as she paid her rent and obeyed the landlord’s rules, she could reasonably have expected to stay until death.

posted by: urbancarpenter on June 6, 2018  10:20am

Jonathan Hopkins,

I applaud your empathy but find it misplaced. I wouldn’t be in any of your proposed situations because I am personally responsible. I have slept in my car until I saved enough for an apartment deposit. I have showered at the gym while I renovated a house that was stripped of all copper piping. I would find it offensive to be told that I need help and am not capable of supporting myself, yet that is the message you are championing to those tenants. Ms. Robinson had six months to relocate and could not manage to figure it out because she had no reason to - she understands that someone else will take care of her. People like you have taught her that and I find it deplorable. If you wanted to help Ms. Robinson you would support programs and efforts that get her out of the system instead of burying her in it. There is no version of a functioning society that enables those who are unwilling to help themselves to continue that behavior.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on June 6, 2018  2:29pm

I gave up hope the complex would be renovated when pre-demolition work began. According to some residents, some families spent months in single rooms without kitchens at the Clarion Hotel in Hamden, while others were relocated to La Quinta and the Village Suites on Long Wharf, all of which are farther from jobs, services, and transportation than Church Street South. As for the lease agreement, I thought HUD’s 2015 failing grade of 20/100 resulted in the condemnation of the entire complex thus requiring that all families be relocated. Was relocation still technically optional and residents could have stayed indefinitely if they wanted?

Imagine a typical two-family rental property with two tenants. One tenant likes their apartment because it is convenient for transportation to their job and its on the first floor, which helps with carrying groceries and moving in. This tenant is perfectly happy with their lease agreement. The other tenant, however, has severe mold problems from a leaky roof that has been poorly maintained. Imagine the government condemning that two-family house and requiring that both tenants be relocated, despite the first floor tenant not having any issues. Why would the tenant voluntarily move to a less desirable apartment? To help her landlord, whose failure to maintain the roof is why they must now leave? Then some awful person breaks into the house and steals copper piping because they’re a jerk and the landlord also failed to secure the property. Now a government bureaucrat shows up and mandates that the tenant leave the property - offering a hotel, or a less convenient and less desirable apartment as options.

That is what happened to this former tenant. She was not demanding relocation services be provided to her, she was happy in her apartment, but a landlord, government bureaucrats, and a copper thief conspired to force her out of her apartment, thus triggering the provision of relocation services as required by law.