Newhallville neighbors incensed by Yale’s decision to pull out of a house-building project will receive a visit from Rick Levin this week—along with a promise to help restart construction.
Levin, Yale’s president, is scheduled to appear at a press conference on Lilac Street on Wednesday.
He will announce that Yale is not abandoning the neighborhood after all. He and Mayor John DeStefano will announce that Yale and the city will pay a not-for-profit builder, Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS), to finish a new home on Lilac Street, according to three people familiar with the plans.
Yale architectural students designed the home and were starting to build it; then the university abruptly pulled out last month after two teens attacked an 83-year-old architecture professor on the site. (Read about that here, and some of the reaction here.)
That decision demoralized homeowners who have spent the past few years putting down roots and improving the neighborhood. Before Yale, Habitat for Humanity had left the neighborhood because of crime. NHS is the only quality not-for-profit builder still working there, repairing beautiful old homes to sell to homeowners—amid streets plagued by slumlords who milk rental properties and leave them in neglect (not to mention perpetrators of mortgage fraud).
Yale’s decision to pull out marked a setback for a neighborhood that has fought hard to improve, and had some dramatic successes, according to neighbors. It turns out the perception of that stretch of Newhallville is quite different depending on the vantage point: from the outside, too risky to enter; from the inside, an area showing hopeful signs of improvement while tackling serious challenges.
While Habitat and Yale left, NHS has been seeing empty refurbished homes suddenly start selling, according to the agency’s director, Jim Paley. In December 2010, NHS had four newly built homes it couldn’t sell. Today, those four homes—and three other NHS homes—are on deposit, he said. NHS has even found buyers for three homes it hasn’t yet completed, on Starr and Huntington streets and Winchester Avenue.
And community policing has started to show results in the form of solved crimes and a decline in a “no-snitching” attitude from neighbors, Paley observed.
“The whole perception has changed,” Paley said. “The balance of power is now in the hands of the people,” not drug dealers or gang-bangers.
“We are invested. We know we have a struggle,” said Tammy Chapman (pictured in her dining room Monday), a homemaker who lives with her family around the corner from the Lilac Street in an immaculate NHS-renovated house on Winchester Avenue, with thriving side-yard garden beds. Over the last three years, she said, “we saw the transformation.” Elderly people walk the streets more; neighbors spend more time outside at barbecues, on clean-ups, in communal gardens.
“If we didn’t see the changes happening, my husband and I and young families coming into the neighborhood wouldn’t come,” said Chapman, whose husband works at Yale. “Most of us who have come into the neighborhood do it by choice. It’s sad to me that Habitat that has made the decision to leave, that Yale seemed to have picked up the same intention to leave.”
“I almost felt betrayed” by Yale, said Kali Williamson, whose family bought a home last year at Winchester Avenue and Lilac Street. “I was hurt. I was so shocked by it.”
She and neighbors were happy to see Yale architectural students work on the property, she said. She would stop by regularly and thank them or offer assistance.
She and her neighbors formed a group called Newhallville Community Matters Residents Association to improve the area. They’ve done neighborhood clean-ups. They’ve planted flowers. They designated “street cleaning captains.” They worked with the Promise Land group to win improved street lighting. They held a day of celebratory “food, music and conversations” with neighborhood kids to welcome the Yale building project; they posted photos from the April event on this web page.
After the attack on architectural professor Paul Brouard (pictured), who has overseen students’ affordable-home-building projects in city neighborhoods for 24 years, Williamson and other neighbors sent him a card. They expressed their sympathy and their outrage at the attack. “We apologized to the man,” she said. And she and other homeowners warned young troublemakers on the block that that kind of crime won’t be tolerated.
They’ve worked with police, including new walking-beat patrol officers, to cut crime. As a result, police report they’ve been able to make more arrests. Including the mugging of Brouard; a neighbor called a Newhallville cop with a tip that led to the arrests of the two alleged attackers. (Read about that here.)
Yale tried to keep the attack on Brouard, and the decision to pull out of the neighborhood, out of the public eye. After the Independent reported on it, the move came under criticism.
“It’s disheartening to see what Yale said. Newhallville has its problems; so does every neighborhood in New Haven. They made it seem like something horrible is going on since they came there. This was an isolated incident. It was horrible. It’s not a reflection on the neighborhood,” said Williamson, who works as a receptionist at the Whitney Center in Hamden and is the daughter of legendary New Haven basketball player (and New York Net) “Super John” Williamson.
“I don’t have to live in Newhallville. I choose to live here. They said, ‘This happens to this gentleman; we won’t do anything in this neighborhood.’ They didn’t talk to any neighbors,” Williamson said.
The Community Matters Residents Association wrote a group letter to the Independent challenging the impression of their neighborhood fostered by the Yale decision. They also took exception to critical remarks of the Yale project by two immediate neighbors of the Lilac Street lot, as published in the Independent. “Every resident on Lilac Street had and continues to have the opportunity to be part of this wonderful transformation. Sadly, some do not want to accept positive change. Regardless, the residents of Newhallville will not allow Yale or anyone else to assign a negative character to our community that it does not warrant,” they wrote.
Meanwhile, the rain canceled a planned neighborhood clean-up Monday with volunteers from Hopkins School. That didn’t stop Tammy Chapman and Sally Voegeli, a volunteer from (yes) Habitat from Humanity, from beginning to plant new flowers in the yard of Chapman’s elderly next-door neighbor.
That neighbor has the misfortune of renting from Diamond Properties, an outfit run by two of the city’s most notorious slumlords, Michael Steinbach and Janet Dawson. Needless to say, the property is neglected. Chapman and Voegeli decided they could at least brighten the hardscrabble front yard with the new plants.
Tina Jackson wandered over from the house where she rents a second-floor apartment across Winchester Avenue.
She and Chapman resumed a conversation about plans to plant flowers in that front yard, too.
“I’m trying to make it look better. I have mass sun in the morning,” Jackson said.
“We could even do some sunflowers. The kids would like that,” Chapman suggested.
Talk turned to guarding the plants with a small fence, and reminding kids to respect the fence.
“I want some vegetables too. I love tomatoes,” Jackson said.
“We could grow the tomatoes,” Chapman said, “on the pots on the porch.”
The neighborhood has decided that it takes many “small steps” over time to make improvement, Chapman reported. Chalk up two more.
This is great! Also great to hear about all the positive things going on here.
posted by: Bill Saunders on June 3, 2013 5:25pm
So, how much is the city ‘kicking in’ for this ‘non-profit builder’, and more importantly, WHY?
NHS already got a sweetheart deal on the land, and they are the ones under contract to develop the parcel, or return it to the City. If this is such a great investment, NHS should hire someone to build it on spec.
The fact that Levin is showing up to pimp this ride tells you something…
posted by: Truth Avenger on June 3, 2013 5:46pm
A good and correct decision which is to be supported and applauded.
posted by: TheMadcap on June 3, 2013 6:10pm
If SCOTUS ruled eminent domain could be used for public good(including the ‘good’ in that case being economic development), why can’t we use it on slumlords. Either fix up the property you own, or the city will take it, use the rent to actually fix up the property, and sell it to an organization that isn’t a shell company for two cartoonishly greedy people. These people are exploiting everyone, the poor who have to pay in full their rent there, the public coffers for taking housing subsidy money to rent out houses that aren’t up to code, and the public at large by lowering the value of a neighborhood both in a monetary sense as well by fostering an overall sense of decay and helplessness.
posted by: Bill Saunders on June 3, 2013 6:52pm
If Mayor Destefano is giving public money away to NHS, he really needs to hold onto his horses until he is ‘officially’ the president of START BANK.
Then we might see more about what this game is really about.
posted by: HhE on June 3, 2013 6:56pm
Bill Saunders, I think you are completely missing the point of NHS. They take houses in struggling areas, fix them up to a very high standard (as we can see from the above photo) , and then sell them at below cost—but at a price point consistent with the area.
As someone who can deduct the cost of my mortgage, and who lives just inside Newhallville, I can hardly take issue with that.
posted by: THREEFIFTHS on June 3, 2013 7:43pm
They all will be gone when they get hit with the 7.7 tax hike.
posted by: HewNaven on June 3, 2013 8:25pm
These neighbors are awesome (not to mention NHS)! They should get connected with Yale’s Urban Resource Initiative (URI) and start a Greenspace group on each block where neighbors have shown interest in improving the neighborhood. URI will teach them how to plant trees and flowers and provide all the materials free of charge. All they have to do is organize the neighbors. Here’s the link:
Threefifths, I live two streets up the hill from Winchester, and I am embarrassed at how low the assessment is on my house.
posted by: Bill Saunders on June 3, 2013 11:36pm
I am asking about why the city is kicking in dough, and how much. I never heard of a non-profit real estate company.
posted by: K Harrison on June 4, 2013 11:38am
This is really great to see. Plus, great pictures.
I have to say I was incredibly disappointed by Yale’s decision to pull out. I guess I understand it, and it was their to make, but still. Lilac street residents have to walk down their street every day, regardless of how safe it is, and Yale students can’t be expected to walk down it even in groups, for a summer?
It does seem weird the city is putting in money on this. This really should be all on Yale, since they’re the ones who promised something and then failed to deliver. Hopefully it is a small amount from the city.
Bill Saunders, I’d like to invite you to visit our website at http://www.nhsofnewhaven.org so that you can learn more about Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven—who we are and what we do. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation with a mission to revitalize under-served neighborhoods and provid affordable homeownership opportunities to low- and moderate-income families. I have been the executive director of this organization for the past 33+ years and am proud of our accomplishments, primarily in the Newhallville, Hill, Dwight, and West River neighborhoods. We take dilapidated, abandoned houses and transform them into beautiful, affordable, owner-occupied residences. The houses we rehab are subsidized because we invest more into each and every house than what we receive from each sale. While you and others may object to public funds being used for such subsidies, our objective is to stabilize the neighborhoods in which we are working and to foster extensive resident engagement so that these sections of the City will ultimately thrive without our involvement.
Newhallville has historically been plagued by investors who have purchased houses inexpensively and reaped the benefit of rental income while investing very little in their properties. In appreciating markets they would profit from rental income and then flip the properties for capital gains; in declining markets, many would simply walk away from their properties, causing a spread of blight and disinvestment. Property values in Newhallville have been depressed for years because of this phenomenon.
There is a growing enthusiasm, particularly among residents in Newhallville, which was quite evident in Paul Bass’ fine story. Ultimately, it is the active engagement of residents who are determined to rid their neighborhood of crime and blight that will successfully turn this neighborhood around for all the good people who live there. I am proud that Neighborhood Housing Services can be part of this.
Bill, please come to the press conference that the Mayor DeStefano and President Levin are hosting at 32 Lilac Street tomorrow (Wednesday) at 1:00. I don’t want to “steal anyone’s thunder” by announcing figures, but you’ll learn the numbers at that time. I’m also happy to divulge all the various sources of subsidy funds that go into each and every one of our projects.
I should add that I am a big believer in stimulus programs that provide a jump-start to neighborhood revitalization (or to a struggling economy, for that matter). On the surface, one might say, wow, that’s a lot of subsidy on a per-house basis, but the intent of the program is to stimulate the broader housing market and to motivate private reinvestment. For example, it’s virtually impossible to motivate a private owner to reinvest in his or her house when the value of the house is less than the balance owed on the mortgage. Once values start to rise, however, an individual’s equity can be quickly restored and there is once again a motivation for private reinvestment. That’s really what this is all about.
Finally, one shouldn’t make the mistake of simply calculating a public subsidy in a vacuum. Assessed values rise following our rehabilitation work, which then produces additional tax revenue for the City. I think it’s important to look at the bigger picture here. A stronger, more stable Newhallville is in everyone’s best interests.
Thank you for keeping the dialog going. I hope to meet you on Lilac Street tomorrow.
posted by: Yaakov on June 4, 2013 1:54pm
I live in a NHS house, and I learned a lot about the organization in the months before the renovations on our house were finished and we were able to close. I can tell you this: Nobody is getting rich off these projects. The work that NHS does is phenomenal, and really does help stabilize blocks. As Jim said, you may not necessarily agree with the use of public funds in general for these subsidies, but over the long haul it’s financially worthwhile. A renovated house is going to have a higher assessment, leading to more tax revenue for the city. Over time, a few renovated homes in a neighborhood (often these are the homes that were previously drags on the values in the neighborhood) can spur additional investment, again leading to higher assessments. It’s a long-term process and NHS is doing amazing work to move this process along.
posted by: Bill Saunders on June 4, 2013 1:59pm
Thanks for the invitation.
Being a pedestrian, I do not walk into that section of town. I will wait for the ‘thunder’ to be reported by NHI.
Most, if not all, of NHS’s projects are rehabilitations of historic homes located in historic districts. Since the passage of the National Historic Preservation Act in 1966, federal and state money has been made available to anyone interesting in investing in properties that are deemed historic, so long as they meet the Secretary of the Interior Standards for rehabilitation, or restoration. Many of their projects have qualified for this type of public funding, which partially covers some of the construction costs through tax credits and other subsidies. I think NHS also uses other federal and state programs to help carry out their work, which includes mortgage counseling among other services.
P.S., if you live in a historic house, you too can apply for the same tax credits that NHS does if you wish to rehabilitate your home. In fact, NHS offers classes a couple times a year showing the public how to apply for these programs.
posted by: Bill Saunders on June 4, 2013 8:40pm
You know, I do live in a historic home in a historic district, and I have gone to great lengths on money to keep the gestalt.
Give me a break, my living room is decked out in vintage victorian wallpaper on the walls and ceiling that me and my wife at the time put up ourselves. The storm windows on the front of my house are hand-made reproductions of the classic tilt-stlye windows found in my basement.
I believe this is my responsibility, not the city or the state.
ps. and I lived through the nineties when my house was upside down by half. if you don’t think those days are coming again real soon, you are smoking banana peels.
posted by: Bill Saunders on June 4, 2013 8:43pm
And Jim Paley,
I didn’t want to sound stand-offish, but if you truly think it is important that I come to Lilac Street tomorrow, maybe you can give me a ride.
My number is actually in the phone book.
Give me a call in the morning and we can work out the details. I am sure we have more in common than not.
posted by: Burbel on June 4, 2013 9:22pm
posted by: Bill Saunders on June 4, 2013 10:12pm
I may be an outspoken critique (blame my upbringing), but I am a very fair man.
It’s funny, i remember one time I finally met someone who I had strongly bantered with on this forum, and we had a quite a jocular discussion.
“Wow,” he said, “you are nothing like how you come across in your comments.”
Well, Bill, I’m looking in my crystal ball right now and I’m seeing Bill Saunders as a fierce advocate for community development; an unwavering proponent of investing public funds to serve as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization; an indefatigable spokesperson for promoting homeownership as one of the best ways to bring about neighborhood stabilization; a champion of the rights of low- and moderate-income families living in neighborhoods free of crime, drugs, and violence.
Come to our office at 333 Sherman Avenue at 12:30 this afternoon. (Take Whalley Avenue to Sherman Avenue, make a right, and we’re the fourth house on the right.) I’ll give you a quick tour of our office complex and then a ride over to the press conference at 12:45 sharp.
posted by: NH observer on June 5, 2013 9:23am
Jonathan Hopkins: Are you aware yet that there are some people who want to expand the Historic District (from Winchester Repeating Arms) more into the depths of Newhallville? I don’t know about you, but I can read between the lines…..
posted by: RCguy on June 5, 2013 12:06pm
In order for you to identify your new friend this afternoon, I have included a recent photo in this comment.