BY Melissa Bailey | APR 13, 2012 11:01 AM
Construction workers tore into the remnants of a row of rundown houses as a not-for-profit builder launched a $13 million effort to remake Fair Haven streets.
The demo took place this week on Murray Place, a paper street connecting Saltonstall to Wolcott.
That’s one of two Fair Haven blocks where the builder, Mutual Housing, doing business as NeighborWorks New Horizons, is demolishing or gut rehabbing properties to make way for affordable homes. The project, which will create 44 units of low-income housing, launched two weeks ago and is due to be finished by the end of the year.
Seila Mosquera, head of the Grand Avenue-based affordable housing agency, led the Independent on a tour of the busy construction sites this week.
The tour began at 255-259 Grand Ave., where three dilapidated stores once sat, on Fair Haven’s main commercial corridor in the heart of the city’s Latino community. Onlookers peered into a hole in a green construction fence to watch a grapple eat away at stone foundations.
Fischer Excavation took down a garage and three buildings that had commercial properties on the ground-floor and apartments above.
Mutual Housing bought the properties four years ago, Mosquera said. The agency helped one remaining tenant, a Turkish cell phone shop, find a space across the street to relocate before the buildings came down.
All the buildings that are part of the project were identified with the help of police, Mosquera said. Some were home to prostitution or drugs; others were vacant eyesores. The three on Grand Avenue were in “horrible condition,” she said. Meanwhile, developer Angelo Reyes had rehabbed three key properties across the street, bringing in a bank and a dental office.
Inspired in part by Reyes’ work, Mosquera said, “we wanted to fix up the other side of the street.”
In the rubble of 255-259 Grand Ave. will rise three buildings connected by a staircase, holding eight units of housing and three retail spots. They’ll use a brick facade in keeping with the historic style of Grand Avenue.
Mosquera turned the corner at Poplar to lead the way to more work under way.
That section of Poplar between Grand and Clay used to be dangerous, she said. There were a lot of shootings at Poplar and Clay. About six years ago, Mutual Housing swept through with rehab crews.
The agency turned a den of drugs and prostitution into a community center. And it transformed townhouses from 309 to 321 Poplar (pictured) through gut rehabs.
The effort targeted “the worst parts of the block,” Mosquera said. Those homes have now been filled with steady, responsible tenants who haven’t left in six years—which has helped stabilize a rough part of the neighborhood, she said.
Now Mutual Housing is proceeding to properties at 322 and 339-341 Poplar, as well as around the corner at 13-15, 41, 43-45-47 and 49 Clay.
“The goal is to revitalize the block,” Mosquera said
Around the corner on Clay, vandals had smashed the windows of one home and sprayed gang graffiti reading “EGC Crip” on the door. That house is next in line for a gut rehab.
Mutual Housing has already made headway on the house next door. The new apartments will have hard-wood floors. All the apartments will be set aside for low-income tenants; tenants will be charged 30 percent of their income for rent, Mosquera said.
The work 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 biggest transformation is taking hold on Murray Place, a former “paper street,” or alleyway, between Saltonstall and Wolcott streets.
Mosquera put on a hard hat and walked down the wide construction driveway.
“They’re moving fast,” said Mosquera. A. Secondino & Sons, the general contractor, was overseeing the removal of contaminated soil. Crews plan to rebuild a significant swath of the block between Saltonstall, Wolcott, Lloyd and James.
Foundations are already rising.
When the work is done, there will be 19 new townhouses and one three-bedroom apartment (pictured in architect’s rendering).
Mutual Housing already has a wait-list of over 100 people in line for affordable housing, according to Gloribell Lopez, Mutual Housing’s director of real estate development. The agency plans to start screening tenants in about six months. The 44 units will be “only a drop in the bucket” of Fair Haven’s vast need, she said.
Mosquera said the apartments aim to launch tenants on the way to self-sufficiency. The hope is that they’ll save up enough money over six to seven years to be able to afford their own homes. To that end, the agency runs classes on financial literacy, credit repair and first-time home buying.
Another goal is to reduce crime. Mosquera said crime has already fallen on the areas the agency targeted with its project six years ago, which added 24 units of affordable housing to Poplar and Ferry streets.
Back on Poplar, some signs of progress are already visible.
Nearby Mutual Housing’s fixer-uppers, workers were busy tearing up old shingles and fixing up the roofs on another home.
Landlord Gil Marshak said the work at 285 Poplar wasn’t directly inspired by Mutual Housing’s improvements, “but we are very happy for all the work that they’re doing” to stabilize the block.
Neighbor Nilda Ramirez (pictured), who’s 45, said she has seen the block improve a lot since she bought her own home there 11 years ago. When she moved in, she found a bullet hole on the pillar of her front porch. There was “a lot of drugs,” she said.
With the new neighbors and nicer homes, the block is “more peaceful,” she said. “We know each other.”
Her next-door neighbor agreed.
The block was “dark and dangerous” seven years ago, said the woman, who declined to give her name. “Now it’s much better.”
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