Newhallville Takes Back Lilac Street

Allan Appel PhotoThere really are lilacs on Lilac Street.

Quite a few of them. They have begun to bud beneath the long-awaited spring sunshine—including three in homeowner Claudette Deer’s front yard (pictured).

You can see them and lots more of what the quaint two-block street in Newhallville has to show now that leaves are being raked, and porches are being spruced up. Even on buildings that have dead-beat landlords.

That’s thanks to the second season of beautification efforts being undertaken by a neighborhood group called Newhallville.Community.Matters.

That’s a grassroots group led by neighbors Tammy Chapman and Kali Williamson to build community pride in Newhallville through, in part, clean-up and beautification efforts.

In addition to Thursday’s general clean-up of Lilac for its full run between Butler Street and Winchester Avenue, the group plans to do some sprucing up, some plantings, and modest painting upgrades on the street every Saturday in April from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. concluding with a celebratory block party on April 26.

They launched Newhallville.Community.Matters a year or so ago around the same time of an attack on a Yale University architecture professor who was supervising his students to build a house on Lilac.  Read about that here and about the neighborhood’s rallying to bounce back here.

Neighbors rallied to restore the reputation of the quaint block in the face of absentee slumlords and crime.

So Thursday with rakes, bags, and gloves from the city, and bolstered by volunteers from the not-for-profit Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS), the crew of ten went out not only to clean up, but to set an example, and to recruit.

As part of its commitment to Newhallville, NHS is developing several properties on the street for rehabilitation and resale.

“The goal is to get the neighbors to come out,” said Williamson. “Then they’ll maintain it.”

That may be especially so with the new wrinkle in this year’s program.

“Last year we focused on cleaning up. This year, it’s beautification. It lasts longer, and people tend to take care of it,” said Williamson.

No one, of course, can come out of an abandoned house to do the clean up. Lilac has at least six abandoned houseson the block between Winchester Avenue and Newhall Street. So the volunteers got to work.

Treg Wilson was pleased to take one of the proffered rakes. Then he began to move prodigious lines of sodden leaves in front of the house. Wilson said he’s been renting half of the house since November. At that time, the place he was living nearby on Read Street.

When that building was foreclosed, “Number 48 was suitable for our family size,” he said.

Make that ten people, including Wilson’s grandson Daevon, who came out to help. Or look.

Wilson said his landlord is from out of state. She hires a maintenance man who does some work on the property, but he hadn’t gotten around to the leaves.

After only 15 minutes of energetic raking, Tammy Chapman declared to 6-year-old Daevon: “Now it’s safe for you to come out to play. There was a lot of glass” before under the leaves.

Further down the block Sharda Mayes worked alongside her two kids, Ja’Ream Grimes and Kynyah Mayes. “I think it’s a good thing. If the parents do nothing, the kids can’t play,” she said.

Mayes, who has in the house at 42 Lilac for only several months, had no complaints against her landlord, who lives in West Haven and herself bought the house only a few months ago.

“We should clean up ourselves. We live here, the landlord doesn’t. If you want it to be nice, you have to contribute,” she said.

And so she was, along with the kids.

Before she left to supervise another group Wiliamson reminded the little ones that there was one bag for leaves, and one for trash. Then she equipped each of Mayes’s kids with gloves and also a golf-club-sized snapper-picker-upper tool, courtesy the city parks and public works departments.

At 4:30 fresh troops arrived from Solar Youth, who are headquartered at Your Place Youth Center at St. Andrews Church nearby on Shelton Avenue and Ivy Street.

The kids quickly took to a litter-strewn field behind one of the houses, and were soon bringing in old cups and cans, cigarette wrappers, and, a cause for some laughter, an old white sneaker found by eight-year-old Kiara (pictured).

This happily yellow house at 24 Lilac will be the first to receive beautification touch-ups, and painting TLC on the porch, at the first Saturday’s event, said Chapman.

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posted by: elmcityresident on April 4, 2014  1:44pm

yeah for solar youth such a positive program for the kids they need to be recognized more

posted by: Edward Francis on April 4, 2014  2:38pm

Great story.  The cleanup by those who live there is the way to lead by example by having their children take part. Keeping the liter in check on a regular basis and spending more time maintaining the property will catch on to others.  The vacant structures need to be given a plan for rehab and sale.  The Ward Committee and the Alder need to step up if they haven’t and LCI is key in keeping these building secured. Every neighborhood should get involved.  Spring is here - its cleanup time for everyone.

posted by: HewNaven on April 5, 2014  11:42am

Awesome story!