NORWALK, Conn. – The $30 million that would come Norwalk’s way should the federal government award a Choice Neighborhoods implementation grant to the Norwalk Housing Authority would do a lot more than fund public housing.
The idea behind the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program is to lift the entire neighborhood, in addition to assisting public housing residents with educational opportunities, NHA Deputy Director Candace Mayer said. This is done, in part, by encouraging development in the area. There are already signs that the strategy is working, she said.
The application for a Choice Neighborhoods grant that was submitted by the Housing Authority and Trinity Financial has been named one of six finalists by HUD. A final decision is expected in late May or early June, Mayer said.
The authority is “absolutely” optimistic about getting the grant, Mayer said. But the project will go ahead either way, as financing has been secured for Phase I, which current residents of Washington Village should be able to move into by fall of 2016, Mayer said. If the grant is awarded, the $30 million will be spent over a five-year period. The budget, provided by Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Tim Sheehan, includes these items:
Critical community improvements $4.5 million
- Choice Neighborhoods Implementation coordinator; Choice Neighborhoods Implementation office in South Norwalk $490,000
- Public safety initiatives $550,000
- Ryan Park improvements $800,000
- Blight removal/beautification program $675,000
- South Norwalk BID/Small business technical assistance and loans $985,000
- Small multi-family affordable housing preservation $1 million
Supportive Services $4.5 million
- Case management/services coordination $1.874 million
- Database and training $120,000
- Data evaluation $125,000
- Education coordinator $500,000
- Programs-childcare $15,310
- Programs- health and wellness $25,000
- Programs-employment and training $50,000
- Computer lab and programming $50,000
- Fund developer $240,000
- Endowment fund $1.5 million
- Choice Neighborhoods Implementation director $700,000
- Choice Neighborhoods Implementation people coordinator $455,000
- Executive director $50,000
- Finance $80,000
- Section 3 $50,000
- Design/construction oversight $40,000
- Miscellaneous $40,000
HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods was created in 2009, to replace the HOPE VI program. “The overarching goal of the Choice Neighborhoods program (Choice) is to redevelop distressed assisted housing projects and transform the neighborhoods surrounding them into mixed-income, high-opportunity places,” HUD says.
“What the overall goal is for the residents of Washington Village is that everyone’s lives and opportunities will be improved as a consequence of this,” Mayer said. “So there is case by case management planned that looks at employment, at work, and health and wellness, education, and about 30 percent of the population that lives in Washington Village now has limited English proficiency. Those are the four key areas, health services and outcomes that we will be working on throughout the implementation of this… We’re looking for quality educational opportunities for all students, high quality educational preschool, elementary, middle and high school, transitioning to college.”
Choice Neighborhoods goes much further than HOPE VI in that it addresses the neighborhood, she said. In this case, that means redeveloping Ryan Park and maintaining the affordability of housing in the neighborhood, she said.
“The neighborhood has a lot of affordable housing now. One of the things that this program seeks to protect is to maintain the affordability of that housing in the neighborhood so that as there is more choices in the neighborhood that is not lost through gentrification,” she said.
The project does not come without cost to the city. In February 2013, the city gave the NHA the right to buy 13 and 20 Day Street for $1. Phase I will be built on 13 Day St.
There are also infrastructure improvements required in the plan, including extending Day Street as a one-way street from Hanford Place to Elizabeth Street and raising the intersection of Day and Raymond streets to 12 feet to allow egress in the event of a flood.
Sheehan said all the public infrastructure improvements are expected to cost about $5 million.
“The other piece is that there is significant improvements in terms of on-street parking, the redoing of the traffic lanes and on-street parking throughout the neighborhoods as well,” he said.
The construction of the project can go ahead without any work on the intersection, he said. That’s a condition imposed by the Zoning Commission, he said, meaning that, “Construction can be simultaneous but before the certificate of occupancy can be issued the work would have to be completed.”
The grant would provide $550,000 for public safety initiatives.
“That’s basically looking at enhancements relative to the community policing and issues such as additional light in the area for public safety, cameras, all that type of stuff,” Sheehan said.
The $1.5 million endowment fund? “I believe that that is the Housing Authority Scholarship fund,” he said.
Educational opportunities are planned to take place at the South Norwalk Community Center and in a workshop built into the new development, he said.
The project includes market rate housing as well as tax credit housing to replace the public housing that exists, NHA Executive Director Curtis Law said.
Mayer said that research has shown that when mixed housing is put into a distressed neighborhood it attracts investment. In 2012, Spinnaker Real Estate Partners acquired an option on the L&L Evergreen property at the corner of Raymond and Day streets, adjacent to the proposed redevelopment. Mayer said properties on Water Street are also likely to be redeveloped.
“I know that the former health site is under study now for what would be a redevelopment plan for that property as well,” she said, referring to the former location of Norwalk Community Health at 121 Water St. “So you can see that as a consequence of additional development, what is happening in cities around the country when it happens is it generates lots of new tax revenue, additional tax revenues in the cities where redevelopment has taken place.”
Construction on Phase I will begin this fall, she said.
“What we’re really pleased about is that with the city’s active participation — they’re a partner in this project. With being able to build on the two vacant sites, we’re able to complete housing before residents need to decide what choice they want to make in terms of their living so no one will have to be relocated for the project to start construction,” she said.
Why the optimism about getting the grant?
“We think we’re fantastic competitors,” she said. “We think we have a phenomenal team. We have the anchor institution of the Norwalk Community College, who has been for years working in many of the same arenas, through their Family Economic Security Program. Trinity has done this all over the Northeast. The Redevelopment Agency, as you well know, has done phenomenal things in Norwalk.”
Other finalists include Philadelphia and Atlanta. The grants usually go to cities of that size.
“We think that while we’re not HUD’s typical application — it usually goes to a large city — we think that we offer very compelling reasons to do that as well as the capacity to get the job done,” Mayer said. “We think that some of the changes that have taken place since we filed our application – such as being ready to start on the Phase I housing component in the fall, the Housing Authority becoming the grantee for Norwalk Head Start and Norwalk ACTS hiring a director – we think that we show that we’re moving along and we can just move better and faster with the Choice Neighborhood funding which would be a wonderful opportunity for the community as well as the residents who live at Washington Village.”