Crack Houses Gone; $4M “Murray Place” Opens

Melissa Bailey PhotoTen years after patrolling a vacant, drug-infested block of Fair Haven for the city’s anti-blight agency, Gloribell Lopez helped cut the ribbon Thursday on 19 brand new apartments.

Lopez, who now works for the not-for-profit housing agency Mutual Housing, cut a ceremonial ribbon Thursday on a $4.65 million new housing complex at 191 Saltonstall Ave. called Murray Place.

Ten years ago, Lopez (at left in photo) patrolled the same block between Saltonstall, Wolcott, Lloyd and James streets as a worker for local government’s Livable City Initiative (LCI). The block contained two rundown multi-family homes and one vacant house. The spot was a “magnet” for loitering, drugs, trespassing and illegal dumping to the block, she said. For the past seven years, her new employer, Mutual Housing, has been working on a plan to revamp a large swath of the black with new houses. Demolition began in April of 2012.

On Thursday, Lopez joined city and neighborhood officials celebrating the project’s completion. The project included paving a new paper street called Murray Place between Saltonstall and Wolcott, and arranging 19 apartments along it offering one to four bedrooms each. It’s part of a larger, $13 million effort by Mutual Housing, doing business as NeighborWorks New Hoizons, to remake Fair Haven streets.

Murray Place’s opening marks a big step forward in a long campaign by LCI to combat blight in the immediate area, including at bank-controlled vacant houses frequented by squatters. (Click here to read about that.)

So far, 12 families have moved into Murray Place. The remaining seven are already leased, and families plan to move in by the end of July, according to Lisa Shoop, who’s handling the leasing for Mutual Housing. Mutual Housing is serving as developer, owner and property manager of the apartments. Half are subsidized through state tax credits; the other half are project-based Section 8.

Mary Sorsor (pictured), a 29-year-old mom with two kids, was the first to move into the apartments on May 15. Originally from Liberia, she had been living in West Haven for 10 years. She applied for the spot through Mutual Housing. Sorsor, who currently works in a factory doing “quality assurance,” hopes the new home will be a stable base from which to launch a new career as a certified nursing assistant.

Sorsor pays $825 a month for her three-bedroom apartment, which does not have a Section 8 voucher. She said the area has been “nice and quiet” and her kids are adjusting well.

“They love it,” she said. “Everyone has their own rooms.”

Enrique Rodriguez (pictured at the top of this story) moved in at the end of May with his wife, Lilian Santos (pictured). The couple moved to New Haven from Puerto Rico six years ago to be closer to family.

They pronounced the apartment “good, quiet, and clean.” Rodriguez, who worked for a tuna-fishing company for many years in Puerto Rico, is now a 61-year-old retiree. Santos, who’s 59, said they couple plans to live out the rest of their years on Murray Place: “As long as God wishes.”

The apartments are available to families making between 25 percent and 80 percent of the area median income. That starts at $15,000 for a single person in a one-bedroom apartment, and goes up to $55,000 for a family of four, according to Shoop.

The project is the second-to-last piece of a $13 million project involving 44 new or rehabbed apartments across Fair Haven. The project is being financed by: federal low-income tax credits, the state Department of Economic and Community Development, the City of New Haven, the Federal Home Loan Bank of Boston, Webster Bank, NeighborWorks America, and United Illuminating’s energy efficiency program.

The final piece will be a trio of storefronts (pictured) on Grand Avenue, which will have eight apartments attached. Mutual Housing originally aimed to bring in storefront retail to the space. But Lopez said the agency is now looking to use most of it for its own offices because the agency is rapidly outgrowing its headquarters at 235 Grand Ave. The project should be finished in a couple of weeks, Lopez said.

Alderwoman Migdalia Castro (at right in photo), whose ward contains Murray Place, said Mutual Housing’s work will help transform the hardest-hit streets in the area. She pronounced the area on a clear upward trend, thanks not just to Mutual Housing, but neighborhood activists she has worked with to form block watches and plant gardens, and help from the city on new sidewalks and roads. (Click here to read more about the area’s upward trajectory.)

“If you saw it then and you see it now, you would see how this ward has been completely transformed,” she said.

Lopez saw many reasons to celebrate. “I grew up in Fair Haven,” she said. “There’s even more of a sense of pride for me. To be able to see it transformed, and to be a part of that, it just awesome.”

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posted by: Curious on June 27, 2013  4:55pm

Wonderful!  I hope the houses stand up better than the ones on Frances Hunter Drive.

posted by: musiclover45 on June 27, 2013  5:13pm

i would like to say its very nice to see the fairhaven community get a makeover and to rid it of drug invested areas for people to have a place to live with there children and a sense of pride and dignity where they live nice job i have a section8 voucher and would love to be able to live over there.

posted by: Paul Wessel on June 27, 2013  5:48pm

Gloribell Lopez was part of the team recruited by Henry Fernandez at City Hall.  I was honored to work with her.  Mutual Housing / Neighborworks was a non-profit developer encouraged by Henry to develop in Fair Haven after he shut down the then aldermen’s own favorite non-profit, Fair Haven Development Corporation, which had a long history of taking city funds and not developing housing.  Henry wasn’t popular when he stopped the flow of public funds to politically-connected, dysfunctional neighborhood development corporations but the legacy of that strong leadership is the housing you see in the photos above.

posted by: Wildwest on June 27, 2013  6:02pm

well Curious, the rest of the area on Front St has been holding up quite nice in the last few years. I wonder if they pay higher taxes to live on the water? oh wait…

posted by: RCguy on June 27, 2013  11:17pm

What good is a Section 8 voucher if one has to wait 18 months to be put on a waiting list for the voucher?

Can’t a lot change for better or for worse in 18 months?

posted by: nellie bly on June 28, 2013  12:25pm

Paul Wessel-

Henry was able to cut off funding Fair Haven HC because the mayor gave him the go. Remember this was during an ongoing FBI probe.

When the first LCI Director tried to do the same to certain politically connected developers she was forced to resign within her first year. Subequently the FBI showed up.

“FHDC had a long history of taking city money and not developing housing” How can a developer continually receive funding when it does not produce? Not very complicated….

posted by: anonymous on June 28, 2013  3:02pm

Paul Wessel, does that explain why Jorge Perez (“politically-connected, dysfunctional neighborhood development corporations”) is so worried that Henry might win?