NORWALK, Conn. – A Norwalk woman says she feels insulted by an email she received this week from a Common Councilman – but at least he responded to her outreach.
Dawn Calle sent an email to all members of the council Monday morning about the proposed transfer of a city property – estimated to be worth about $2 million – to a private developer. Only two council members responded.
Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E) wrote back in about an hour. Councilman Warren Peña (D-At Large) wrote back the following day. After three days as of Wednesday night, she has received no other responses.
Calle, the mother of young children, wrote to them about the transfer of 13 and 20 Day Street to the Norwalk Housing Authority, which will then give them to Trinity Financial if a HUD Choice Neighborhoods grant is obtained, using the property as in-kind contribution. She wrote to the council, telling them not to give away city money.
“Our dollars need to be better managed,” she said. “You all need better people giving you financial planning advice.”
McCarthy wrote back and the two exchanged more emails. The exchange touched on the idea that housing projects breed crime and perpetuate poverty, the lack of library time in Norwalk elementary schools this year and last year’s school budget reconciliation.
Calle said there doesn’tt seem to be any real information available, and questioned the financial benefit of the deal.
“It just seems to me that no one really looks at the big picture,” she said. “The same is true for the school budget. There is a shortfall or not? In June I sat in that concert hall waiting to speak until midnight and now I see there is not even a shortfall.”
Her son had not been to the school library in the month of January because he does not have full time librarian due to budget cuts, she said.
McCarthy’s response included this passage: “Unfortunately, most parents get a little short-sited [sic] when it comes to the schools, because they want the best for their kids, and they don’t always remain logical. So, we have to balance the educational needs of our kids with the financial burden on the taxpayer. Not easy, but necessary.”
Calle said she felt insulted, as she felt she had been called short-sighted. McCarthy responded, “I apologize if you feel I called you short-sighted. I didn’t. I made an observation in general.”
McCarthy said no money was being given away, that city-owned property would be used in addition to $40 million in HUD money, with the goal of replacing the oldest public housing project in Connecticut, Washington Village.
Calle said she thought the entire concept of public housing needs to be rethought. “They just become breeding grounds for drugs and crime,” she said. “They seem to perpetuate poverty.”
McCarthy agreed. “The one way out of this is to do projects like the proposed Day Street project, which will turn a terrible public housing project into a project that is one third public housing, one third affordable and one third market rate,” he said. “If you look at Stamford’s success in this area, I think you would agree with me that if you have to do this, this approach works best.”
The city doesn’t own the property Washington Village sits on; the Norwalk Housing Authority does, he said. Of the property being transferred as the in-kind contribution to get a HUD grant, he said, “You tell me what you think two dirt lots next to a dilapidated public housing project are worth. Given where we are, I think moving forward to make a positive change is the best path.”
Peña thanked Calle for reaching out about Day Street, and said he had thought the same thing when he first heard of the proposed transfer.
“There is much more that will and needs to come out to the community so that people understand what is going on,” he said. “On it’s surface, that’s what it looks like, but it’s much more complicated than that. … More will come out before this project goes ahead.”
He also said he sympathized with her school budget complaints.
“After everything we/I fought for last year, all of a sudden it looks like the city is going to forgive the debt to the BOE,” he said. “So why go through all that we went through last year? It’s a serious game that this administration should not play with the people”
Despite the “short-sighted” remark, Calle tried to put a positive spin on the response to her email.
“I will say that I have contacted council members in the past and heard crickets,” she said. “The mayor called me back on a Sunday once. I was impressed. I think he thought he would catch me off guard, but I held my own.”