Take It Down, Or We’ll Sue!

Allan Appel PhotoAs Hamden’s mayor prepared to tour of New Haven’s newly rebuilt West Rock projects, tenants and housing officials threatened to go to court if necessary to tear down the local version of the Berlin Wall, a decades-old fence that blocks cross-border travel.

Fifty tenants and officials came together at the auditorium of the Brennan-Rogers School Tuesday evening to sign petitions and rally local energy in expectation of a visit by Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson and his town councilmen next Monday. 

The Hamden contingent plan to tour the newly rebuilt Brookside projects, now a mix of rental and owner-occupied homes with added levels of social services and security. Officials hope the tour will convince the Hamdenites that the time to take down the fence has not only arrived, but is decades overdue.

“We’re going to do everything we can [to convince them to pull that fence down] including suing them. But we hope that won’t be necessary,” said Housing Authority of New Haven [HANH] Deputy Director Jimmy Miller, who conducted Tuesday’s impassioned community meeting.

With the fence removed, Wilmot Road will be able to be connected to Woodin Street in Hamden. Then two newly created in streets in Brookside, Jennings Way and Augustine, would also connect to Woodin. With bus service added, the troubling isolation of the area would end, according to the plan.

If Hamden changes its mind and takes down the fence. Mayor Jackson was noncommital in a recent Independent interview, saying he’d like to see it happen, but not sure when.

The fenceless future vision was music to April Pearson’s ears. A van for disabled people like her costs $2.60 each way and goes to the Whalley Avenue Stop and Shop downtown via a long circuitous route. With the roads open to Hamden, Pearson said, she could go to the nearby plazas in Hamden “The plazas have lots of stores [too, not just a grocery].  If you have to go to the doctor or foot doctor, you can plan your schedule. I could get a few things accomplished at once. Let the bus go through,” she said.

Miller said self-interest should also motivate Hamden to take down the fence. In two years, when all the phases of Brookside are complete, 1,000 homes will have been built, housing 3,000 people. “Our residents have the same desires. We spend money at all the big boxes. It’s an economic boon,” he said.

Click here for a June story on Mayor DeStefano’s call for the fence to come down, and Jackson’s response, on the occasion of the inauguration of the first rental and home ownership dwellings at Brookside Estates and Belden Brook, the newly named and reconfigured developments.

Those ongoing rentals and home purchases are the first phase of a $200-million 1,000 unit community of new rentals, homes, and stores replacing the old crime-plagued Rockview and Brookside developments. Children robbing homes across into Hamden during the 1980s and 1990s triggered the controversial fence’s construction, noted Dorothy Harris, a social worker who has lived in the area for 49 years.

But all that has changed, with the new developments having far more older people and far more security, Harris said.

She also disagreed with Miller’s approach of suasion first and legal steps later if necessary: “They should go to court. It’s been there too long.”

Miller agreed and disagreed. “Someone long ago should have taken a civil rights action. [The fence] is there and it’s been reinforced. They did it unilaterally. They got no permission.” Miller said that HANH has been in touch with lawyers at the Yale law clinic, just in case. However, the legal route would take a long time. Miller wants the roads open as soon as possible, because people are renting, buying, and moving in.

New Haven state Sen. Toni Harp called the wall an outrage and a “public health and environmental hazard” because it limits quick access for emergency vehicles. “If there’s flooding [without the roads being opened], we’ll have another Katrina here,” she said.

” I think my record has been supportive for that [taking down the fence]. The question is how we get from A to B,” Mayor Jackson said in a recent interview. “Those fences are there for a reason.”

He added that although he personally has been to the redeveloped Brookside “many, many times,” the city of New Haven has to do a better job communicating the improvements to Hamden’s residents.  “There needs to be an open house, an open invitation for residents to come see the construction, because they’ve seen a lot of bad stuff in that area,” he said.

That open house, starting with Hamden officials, will be Monday night next week. Miller said he hopes residents will present Mayor Jackson and his council petitions with at least 250 signatures.

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posted by: anonymous on August 8, 2012  8:28am

Every business in Hamden should be boycotted until this fence is removed. It is a violation of civil rights. Hamden’s Mayor is worse than 1950s era Mississippi.

posted by: Anika Singh Lemar on August 8, 2012  11:37am

Mayor Jackson, I don’t doubt that “Those fences are there for a reason.”  The question is, what is that reason and do you stand by it?

It’s worth noting that the refusal to connect Woodin and Wilmot predates the actual construction and lease-up of the West Rock projects.  The federal government agreed, in the planning process in the early 50’s, not to connect the two roads despite the isolation it would create in West Rock as a concession to Hamden residents.  So, again, what was the reason for Hamden’s opposition?  It wasn’t crime, for example, because at the time the development hadn’t been built yet.

posted by: anonymous on August 8, 2012  12:51pm

AL, did you have to ask?

In supporting continued isolation from livelihoods and jobs, in an era where transport is by far the largest barrier to jobs access, Mayor Jackson is essentially saying this:

“The vast majority of [residents in Hamden] don’t care whether a [poor person] ever rides a bus [to Hamden] again.” (W. A. Gayle)

posted by: ThinkBeforeTalk on August 8, 2012  2:22pm

Can the Media please interview both sides of the issue? Where are the opinions and views of the people of Hamden who live on Woodin St and it’s adjacent roads? What do they want? Is Woodin St able to handle the increase in traffic? Do people not remember the 80’s and 90’s? Is Newhallville any safer with these types of projects? What is New Haven going to for the people of Hamden who live on Woodin st? Can the people of Hamden vote on the matter that concerns their town? What about their civil rights? Their property values? Crime? Drugs? Guns?

posted by: Walt B on August 8, 2012  2:39pm

I grew up in south Hamden, and the first time i really became aware of “the wall” was when my bus to MJ whalen jr. high would pick up the mostly Italian kids in the Pine Rock area on the way to school.  It took me until i was about 20 to to realize how disgusting THE NEED for it was, and i’m still apalled that it has to exist, but the town of Hamden is kind of screwed here.
The powers that be, who built this desert outpost intentionally hid people away from the downtown New Haven area.  There are no grocery stores, no little league fields, no movie theaters, no schools and no shops out there.
When the area was abandoned ten years ago, it should have been bulldozed and used either for SCSU housing or an industrial park, and the displaced people should have settled into areas that are integrated into existing neighborhoods, or at lest put closer to downtown.
Scott Jackson is a good man, and a responsible mayor.  NHPD can’t do it’s job out there, and Hamden PD shouldn’t have to.
If people want to be outraged, be outraged that an entire community has been “hidden” with complicity by the City of New Haven.

posted by: Edward_H on August 8, 2012  3:11pm

I vow to patronize any business that supports this wall staying up. Stand up for what you think is right Hamden!

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on August 8, 2012  3:32pm

Construction of Brookside and Rockview was completed in 1951 and fully occupied in 1952, thereby predating nearly all of the housing west of West Side Drive in the Pine Rock area of Hamden. The area between West Side Drive and Pine Rock Avenue was a white, middle class subdivision from the 1940s. It was most likely these residents that objected to the federally subsidized low-income Rockview Circle project. At the time, the plan was to connect Wilmot Road with Woodin Street, but Hamden objected and the Feds conceded - preferring ease of project completion over spending more time and energy doing what is right. Later, Hamden went further by building a fence on public property to physically separate low-income black residents of Rockview Circle from the white, middle class subdivision of Pine Rock, which is illegal under the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution according to the US Supreme Court as well as under the Connecticut Equal Protection clause according to the Connecticut Supreme Court.
The reason behind the original separation of Rockview Circle and Hamden was racially and socio-economically based. There was no evidence at the time that public housing facilitated criminal activity or lowered surrounding property values. In fact, the exact opposite was true in the 1950s as evidenced by the success of housing projects like Elm Haven, Farnam Courts and Quinnipiac Terrace. It was not until decades later that severe problems emerged.
In the case of West Rock, HANH’s inability to maintain and supervise their significant number of public housing units in the 1980s and 1990s combined with larger economic and social problems in the society and residents’ isolation created many of the problems that Hamden residents now use - 20 years later - to justify the continued existence of the fence. With the demolition of Brookside and Rockview and their replacement with a Hope VI redevelopment, the somewhat reasonable argument from 1992 is no longer relevant. Hamden’s position today is no better than it was in 1950.
In fact, Hamden’s complacency today is even more egregious than the blatantly racist and classist actions of the 1950s because most of the low-skill, service jobs in the county have since moved from urban centers like New Haven to suburbs like Hamden. In particular, Hamden’s shopping center on Dixwell Avenue is a major employment and shopping destination that should be made as accessible as possible from West Rock.

posted by: hrsn on August 8, 2012  4:01pm

Building the original projects there in the first place was a terrible idea. The city used an inaccessible area that is hardly more than a weird salient into southwest Hamden to handle its own housing problem. It was an aggressive and unneighborly act. And then the crime wave…

“Children robbing homes across into Hamden during the 1980s and 1990s triggered the controversial fence’s construction…”

Sure, it’s supposed to be different now with the redevelopment, and the fence will likely come down—but only with some goodwill on both sides. Continuing to blame Hamden for a rational solution to a real problem New Haven caused in the first place is not helpful.

posted by: darnell on August 8, 2012  5:14pm

What a joke. Now all of these folks (HANH, DeStefano, Harp) think that it is outrageous to allow free travel for the residents of that area. How about all of the seniors that have been living out there all of these years. Where were all of these LEADERS two years ago when I was fighting all alone to remove that travesty. Christ I am so glad that I have sworn off politics…I could never be a really good politician because I only learned how to speak out of one side of my mouth.




posted by: Sammy on August 8, 2012  5:48pm

Yeah, between threatening lawsuits and comparing Hamden residents to 1950s segregationists in Mississippi, I can’t imagine why the people who were being robbed by this neglected housing project 20 years ago wouldn’t have complete faith in the new project today?

Outreach FAIL.

Tell me one good reason why we should think the crime wave won’t come back? Show me one of the East Rock NIMBYs who would walk through West Rock Manor or Woodside alone at night?

If they were talking about opening a street up to new bus traffic in one of the shires of New Haven, you guys would be complaining six ways from Sunday.

posted by: anonymous on August 9, 2012  10:40am

“Hamden’s complacency today is even more egregious than the blatantly racist and classist actions of the 1950s because most of the low-skill, service jobs in the county have since moved from urban centers like New Haven to suburbs like Hamden.”

Exactly. Hamden is the new East Haven. 

This should be a national news story.  With their records on civil rights, it is surprising that Obama, Lieberman, and Blumenthal have not already taken action.

posted by: ThinkBeforeTalk on August 9, 2012  3:11pm

People who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Hamden does not want a repeat of Brookside. There is no evidence that the new project will be any better than the old ones. look at Newhallville, for example. It is not a safe place, int fact, Newhallville is the reason why New Haven is so dangerous. The FBI concluded that New Haven was the fourth most dangerous city in America because of the issues that arise with unproven style of housing.
Besides the crime, What about the increase in traffic? Woodin St. is not built to handle dozens of CT transit buses or the huge increase in car traffic from 1,000 new apartments. Speeding is already a massive issue on Woodin and so much more traffic could prove fatal to the children who ride their bikes or play in there own front yard.
Why can’t the media interview the people of Hamden? We are not all white! In fact most of this section of Hamden is black or latino. It is a very diverse community who respects each others property.  Playing the race card is not only irrelevant, it showcases that lack of an argument by the individuals who built the “new” projects in such an isolated area to begin with.

posted by: anonymous on August 9, 2012  5:02pm


Yep, let’s just demolish all of the housing in New Haven. The families living there can all relocate to Waterbury. The only thing left in New Haven would be employers like Yale, Yale-New Haven, City Hall, and the interdistrict magnet school district. We can keep East Shore and Westville, because those areas are safer than Hamden.

Once that is done, we can reopen the roadways between the two cities, and widen them (like is currently being done at Route 34) so that Hamden residents can get to their jobs and magnet schools more easily.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on August 9, 2012  6:11pm

There are two public housing projects in Newhallville, Constance Baker Motley and Newhall Gardens - both of which are restricted to people 62 years and older or people with disabilities. There are studio and 1-bedroom apartments in these two projects. There are no public housing projects in Newhallville that are open to families - none.

“The FBI concluded that New Haven was the fourth most dangerous city in America because of the issues that arise with unproven style of housing.”

This is not true. Newhallville’s housing stock is overwhelmingly traditional detached wood frame houses - remarkably similar to Hamden’s housing stock. In fact, I’ve written extensively about this topic:
According to the FBI’s government website, “Each year when Crime in the United States is published, many entities—news media, tourism agencies, and other groups with an interest in crime in our Nation—use reported figures to compile rankings of cities and counties. These rankings, however, are merely a quick choice made by the data user; they provide no insight into the many variables that mold the crime in a particular town, city, county, state, region, or other jurisdiction. Consequently, these rankings lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting cities and counties, along with their residents.”

The fourth most dangerous ranking from 2011 was determined by unscientific, non-peer reviewed “analysis” conducted by 24/7 Wall Street - a commercial website. Their analysis is less than worthless.

Furthermore, New Haven was not even in the Top 10 of 24/7 Wall Street’s 2012 Most Dangerous Cities Ranking.

When the fence was put up Pine Rock was not racially integrated - making its existence in defiance of the US Constitution and therefore illegal. It should have been taken down a long time ago. However, in the late 1980s and 1990s there was a case to be made for a fence on the grounds that the Housing Authority of New Haven was not properly maintaining and supervising its housing in West Rock, which was true. However, the Housing Authority has undergone a massive overhaul since the late 1990s in response to a Federal audit. Hope VI Redevelopment projects are more similar to traditional neighborhoods than they are to 1950s-era public housing barracks. The new West Rock development will be mixed-income with homeowner-occupied houses in addition to rental apartments. Management for the development will be located on-site.

posted by: Ladyc5303 on August 9, 2012  6:13pm

I live at one time was considered a TOP neighborhood in New Haven in the 80’s.  NOW this entire city is so filthy dirty.  People don’t clean up their one property.  Renters just throw trash and teach their kids that same way.  entire bag of eaten McDonald’s or Popeye’s cups boxes and all just thrown in the middle of the street.  Track and parks OPEN free to the public, are not respected.  The HILL section neighborhood was considered one of the dirtiest neighborhoods in the city in the past now no one seems to know how to use the garbage cans in this entire city.  Just Dump crap on the side of the road.  I am TRULY upset. I pay my taxes I pay my mortgage YES Respect is given by actions.  I would wait to see what happens out there.  I live in NEW HAVEN and if I could put up a fence around my entire neighborhood to keep my community clean so that my property value increases I most definitely would…......

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on August 9, 2012  6:34pm

All the available evidence for evaluating Hope VI Redevelopment projects explains that these new projects are not only safer than what they replace, but even safer than their surrounding areas. Look at Monterey Place in Dixwell, or Quinnipiac Terrace in Fair Haven.

The argument that “It could go bad again” is not a legitimate argument because it has no evidence to back it up. Now its certainly possible that high crime rates and deterioration can return to the new development, but baseless projections are not a valid reason to keep the fence up. It would be like demanding immediately that a giant fence be erected on teh border on Canada because Canada may one day attempt to invade the US. Now its certainly possible that this could happen, but there is no evidence to back it up. Furthermore, what makes the case with the Hamden fence so egregious is that Hamden has developed major regional commercial areas since the 1950s, which are important to the livelihoods of future residents of West Rock.

I am not a fan of public housing for non-disabled or elderly people. I am not a fan of West Rock’s use for public housing. But acting as if this housing can be provided elsewhere or in some other way is to deny reality. It might be nice to imagine some alternate universe where there aren’t federal regulations on public housing, and various mandates for municipalities and housing authorities, but that isn’t our reality - its a fantasy world that doesn’t exist. We have to make the best decisions we can with the available evidence.

The fence should come down. Roads should be opened. Transit service should be expanded. Management and maintenance of the development should be excellent and fully funded. There should be opportunities for Pine Rock and West Rock to get together - maybe a farmer’s market, festivals, community meetings, etc.

I would also not be entirely against having a fence as a last resort sometime in the future should the Housing Authority fail to do its job and West Rock become plagued with crime again.

posted by: Ladyc5303 on August 9, 2012  9:53pm

I am all for home ownership.  People normally take better care of their property More then some one else’s.  I also think it would be EXCELLENT if every New Haven Police Officer, New Haven city employee, and Fire Department make it mandatory that in order to work here, you must live in the city limits.  Pride in the city you live in is a must yes they work here but we live here.  I Just passed through NC and VA on the highway they have posted, please keep our city clean. states as large as those it ddidn’tatter if your in low income housing or the suburbs they have pride in where they live.  It was so clean.  if they can why can’t we?

posted by: anonymous on August 10, 2012  9:28am

I refuse to shop in Hamden until this is addressed. Luckily, almost any store that can be found in Hamden can also be found in New Haven, North Haven, or West Haven.

posted by: ThinkBeforeTalk on August 10, 2012  3:37pm

What about the traffic problems that will arise if the roads were connected? So how much money will Hamden taxpayers have to spend because of this housing project to only see their home values fall?
Why are people complaining about the fence now? Why wasn’t this fence issue resolved before brookside 2 began construction?

posted by: Ladyc5303 on August 10, 2012  5:06pm

So funny many communities are divided thought out the US.  in Fair-field county I believe theynare called Gated communities. 

I just feel New Haven has so much Still to do or proove first.  Start with keepingNew Haven safe.  Kids can’t play outside anymore in some areas.  New haven is segregated now.  If you live in the Newhall Ville your targeted if you go to Kennsigton. 

Milford has Restricted beaches yes I still go to the Milford mall.  who knows one day I strive to be a resident of that city. 

I am happy to see the opportunity Brookside offers but it has been a crutch,  Generations of family living in low income housing receiving Rap, T RAP all of this assistance And are okay with that.  Yes we all need help every now and then but to make it a lifestyle?

posted by: Ladyc5303 on August 10, 2012  5:55pm

Segregation? Majority of the families that live in that section are African American and Latino. We moved out here for peace of mind. But where there is a will there is a way, for ignorance that is. I recall times as a child during the early 2000s when people would come through the holes cut in the fence to trick or treat we didn’t mind. But I also recall times when the same outlets were used to steal our bikes off our lawns, and in one instance out of my friends HANDS. It’s is a residential area no immediate stores or eateries and no large roads to accommodate that amount of traffic. Wintergreen ave connects both neighborhoods. My family grow up in brookside and worked hard to get where they are today. I suggest others do the same.