“This Is Public Housing”

Paul Bass PhotoNew Haven officials made a $30 million pitch to their new U.S. senator by taking him on a before-and-after tour.

On his sixth day in office, Sen. Chris Murphy went on that tour Tuesday afternoon with housing authority chief Karen DuBois-Walton and Mayor John DeStefano.

First they took him to Farnam Courts, the rundown circa-1940 brick projects tucked away from the rest of civilization next to I-91 and an industrial stretch of Grand Avenue. The project, with its narrow, perilous, dark hallways, has been one of the city’s most violent spots.

The housing authority has tried twice to obtain a $30 million federal “Choice Neighborhoods” grant to tear down Farnam Court and rebuild it as a less crowded, mixed-income community with some homeownership as well as tenancy. Twice the feds turned down the authority’s request. (Read about that here.)

Standing in Farnam’s central courtyard, Murphy asked whether to-be-displaced tenants would eventually return to the rebuilt project if the money does ever arrive. DuBois-Walton said they’ll have that option. Generally about 20 percent of tenants have returned to projects that have undergone demolition and rebuilding, she said; others move to other homes in New Haven, or even take their federal housing vouchers and leave town. “The family that always wanted to go back to South Carolina, this is their opportunity,” she said.

The housing authority has found the money to get started on the demolition of Farnam Courts and construct some new apartments scattered on the east side of town to house tenants who’d be at least temporarily displaced. (Read about that here.) But they still need to $30 million from the feds to construct the new Farnam Courts.

DuBois-Walton and DeStefano asked their new senator to help them get it.

To drive home the pitch, they enlisted a van driver to take the senator and his New Haven escorts to a second public housing project, Quinnipiac Terrace.

Q Terrace used to look like Farnam Courts. It suffered from the same chronic crime and maintenance problems as Farnam. Then the housing authority tore it down and gradually rebuilt it, the way it transformed the old Elm Haven projects in Monterey Court: with a mix of incomes, a mix of renters and homeowners (currently 20 out of 176 families) living in attractive row houses made of brick and pastel-painted wood, spread out with attractive landscaping. Q Terrace looked like a set from the Truman Show.

Seven years later, it still looks that way.

“This is public housing,” DuBois-Walton proclaimed to Murphy as the entourage alighted from the van onto the winding walkway down to the sun-touched Quinnipiac River.

This is what Farnam Courts can look like if New Haven gets that Choice Neighborhoods grant, DuBois-Wlaton said. The city’s applying a third time.

Murphy promised he will help the city try to get a yes this time.

“It’s not going to be a light lift,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”

Mayor DeStefano was also looking to Murphy to help the city get another federal TIGER grant for the next phase of Downtown Crossing, the project in which the city is filling in the Route 34 Connector mini-highway-to-nowhere.

Before freeing Murphy for his next appointment (a tour of Higher One’s newish complex), officials took him to see one of New Haven’s showpiece rebuilt schools, Fair Haven. The third-graders in Alex Novak’s class swarmed around Murphy as he showed them a photo on his smartphone.

“That’s me getting sworn in” last week, Murphy told them.

The kids wanted to know if he had any photos of President Obama. No such luck.

But he did make the kids a promise.

“I’m going to ask him to come to Fair Haven School,” he vowed.

Yayyyyyyyyy!!!!!” came the response.

“I don’t know if he’s going to say yes,” Murphy said, acknowledging yet another heavy lift in D.C. on New Haven’s behalf. “But it doesn’t hurt to ask.”

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posted by: anonymous on January 8, 2013  6:09pm

The Federal Government is out of its mind if it funds family housing next to a freeway. 

This is 2012, not 1950. 

Most politicians and planners aren’t living under a rock - they know something about air pollution and health science.

New Haven’s application should be denied with extreme prejudice - there are hundreds of more deserving proposals, including others from within Connecticut.

posted by: Wildwest on January 8, 2013  9:27pm

anonymous- the wind blows around here about 99% of the time. Cities like LA and SLC fill up with smog(zero wind) and the entire cities live with it for weeks on end until the weather blows it away. I dont know the numbers but I cant imagine that spot on the open river could EVER get as bad as those cities do on a regular basis.

posted by: darnell on January 8, 2013  10:05pm

Hey Paul,

How about doing a story on how the Mayor’s office deliberately DID NOT invite the local Alderman, Mike Smart, to this tour/event.What’s the deal with that?

posted by: darnell on January 8, 2013  10:09pm

What was this. a press op/photo shoot?

posted by: HhE on January 8, 2013  10:26pm

MikeM, while I think anonymous’ arguments are often problematic due to extreme claims that are never supported by citation, in this case, I belive anon is objecting to the Farnam Courts location; isolated from much of the city, and shoehorned next to an Interstate, and not Q Terrace. 

I find “This is what Farnam Courts can look like if New Haven gets that Choice Neighborhoods grant, DuBois-Wlaton said.” is a disturbing world view—as if nice buildings can overcome a bad location.  I opine she is really in the market for a can of turd polish, a can at tax payer’s expense.

While I watched the Q Terrace build, I wondered why it was not being treated as a luxury home build site:  water front, easy access to the Interstate…

posted by: streever on January 8, 2013  11:01pm


I agree strongly with Hhe on this one, and I want to point out to you that New Haven is the NUMBER TWO city for asthma in the entire NATION.


Yes, the wind blows here, but we still have worse asthma rates than almost the entire rest of the nation.

posted by: Wildwest on January 9, 2013  8:32am

Asthma in New Haven is not because of the highways(think mold&dust; mites) streever and Hhe, read the articles not the headlines. If that was the case New Haven would barely be in the top 50 since we all know the amount of traffic here is miniscule compared to other cities. Sure, Farnam Courts is next to the freeway and the particulate levels are high(when the wind blows that way) but they are high in Wooster Square and State St as well.

I’m glad Murphy came and looked at Farnam and Quinnipiac so he can see what night and day looks like.

posted by: Walt on January 9, 2013  8:49am

While I predicted the Riverside and off-Rte 80 projects would be dumps in a couple of years they still look great, at least from the Road as I drive by

Why?  Tenant selection?  Training?  Great job!

Whether it is fair that these folk now live in deluxe locations next to tax-paying workers struggling to retain their less-than-great homes nearby,  is another question

The Housing Authority has gone through some amazing changes

posted by: nutmeg on January 9, 2013  9:13am

people living or working in the immediate vicinity of highways are exposed to more air pollutants:


that said, it’s not location of Farnam Court which is the problem, it’s I-91.

posted by: HhE on January 9, 2013  9:22am

MikeM, my objections to Farnham Court is not asthma based, rather its location makes it a ghetto—physically, economically, and culturally isolated.  I don’t doubt that the highway has a negative heath impact (mental and physical).  However, my primary objection is that the highway acts as a barrier.

posted by: Atwater on January 9, 2013  9:34am

It’s horrifying to know that my tax money is funding public housing while workers, who pay taxes and don’t live on the dole, struggle to pay rents and mortgages. It is even more insulting to know that our government thinks it fair to put so much time and effort into making public housing something to be desired, while it should be something to be avoided. Just think of the progress we would make if all of this money being pumped into the welfare system would be put into efforts to establish and provoke the re-emergence of industry. Do we really want/need nice looking neighborhoods populated by a citizenry that is either unable or unwilling to find gainful employment? Do we really want a city, state or nation where the motivation to work and be self-reliant is dissolved by the tenuous establishments of public welfare and charity? Such a society cannot function and will not endure and any greatness that we could achieve and have achieved will be squandered.

posted by: KarenDW on January 9, 2013  10:15am

The Housing Authority agrees that this site is inappropriate for family housing.  The family housing that will be built will be located on tow other parcels of property owned by the HANH that are in residential neighborhoods more conducive for housing families with children. 
Karen DuBois-Walton

posted by: HhE on January 9, 2013  10:51am

KarenDW, where exactly are these two locations?

posted by: anonymous on January 9, 2013  11:09am

KarenDW, that’s good to hear. The previous NHI article said that the vast majority of families would be remaining in new housing to be built next to the freeway.

MikeM, while it is true that there are other areas are located next to freeways, few of them have such a large concentration of young children.  Also, there is a difference between private housing that many people choose to live in, and public housing funded by the Federal government and designed to solve a social issue.

posted by: FairHavenRes on January 9, 2013  12:05pm

Hhe, if you click on the links in the article, one of them points to another NHI article with the detail:
“The plan has two components: Build a larger, mixed-income complex at the current site of Farnam Courts. And convert the old Cott soda factory at Chatham and Ferry Street into homes, as well as build more housing at Eastview Terrace, to accommodate displaced families.”


posted by: Long Time NH Resident on January 9, 2013  12:08pm

@ supportnewhaventaxpayers

Be careful what you ask Paul, you may get your I.P address blocked.

Also I can’t believe they published your comment that inferred a negative comment towards the Mayor’s administration. I was told this was unacceptable.

[Editor: Obviously we allow comments that criticize City Hall. If you think otherwise you haven’t read the comments. What we don’t allow are nasty, personal, gratuitous attacks.]

posted by: streever on January 9, 2013  12:29pm

@Long Time NH Resident
are you the mystery person who wrote a hateful and misogynistic screed about a mayoral employee that resulted in new rules at the NHI?

If so, I appreciate you outing yourself, the Mayor’s administration told people it was me, which I found upsetting and beyond inappropriate. I didn’t realize anyone could be employed purely to spread gossip.

posted by: darnell on January 9, 2013  12:30pm

@ Long Time NH Resident:

I’m guessing that you are being sarcastic. I have had some of my comments censured and I may not have agreed with the NHI, but i must say that 1. I believe for the most part they have been fair, and 2. I don’t think anyone can honestly say that they have slanted their coverage in the city administration’s favor.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on January 9, 2013  12:38pm

Gotta admit that the Q Terrace location is spectacular, and rebuilding Farnam Courts won’t magically produce a river view and the kind of open sky that goes with it.  I think it’s enormously to New Haven’s credit that they did NOT just bulldoze the public housing there and sell it off to a luxury developer.  It’s a gem, and a real sign of hope for the whole concept truly inclusive and integrated neighborhoods—and incidentally for the vision of a humane, human-scaled use of traditional domestic architecture as opposed to all the effete architectural experimentation that was being carried out on the poor-as-guinea-pigs in the “model city” era.

That said, a couple of points:

1. Farnam Courts is bad but the pre-renovation Q Terrace was worse, in every way except that river view.  There was a stopgap renovation at Farnam around 2000 (new outdoor play equipment, etc.), and the physical deterioration at Q Terrace was much, much worse than what you see at Farnam.

2.  Monterey Place (not Court) that has replaced Elm Haven, also lacks the river view, but it’s still an awfully nice looking neighborhood and certainly a whole lot better than what was there before the rebuild.

3.  Highway noise at Farnam is also a problem, along with pollution.

4.  Despite all that, with careful planning, Farnam ought to be able to re-emerge with the benefits of a truly downtown neighborhood, with centrality and walkability—something neither Q Terrace nor Monterey have got going for them.  Not all neighborhoods—whether affluent or mixed or whatever—need to be alike or have the same advantages.

And I agree absolutely that the cardinal sin was slicing the Wooster-Fair Haven area up in the first place.

posted by: anonymous on January 9, 2013  12:59pm

Why are we re-housing families in areas with failing schools, and in areas where the chance of getting into a magnet school is 0%?

Shouldn’t the new family housing be built in areas with good schools? 

Murphy, DeLauro, and DeStefano are acting like we’re trying to reinforce our State’s problems, not correct them.  I think Malloy would know better?