NORWALK, Conn. – Young mothers in recovery from substance abuse joined Norwalk and Connecticut politicians Tuesday to celebrate the opening of their new place to live: Gini’s House.
Liberation Programs’ new $7.2 million affordable housing development on Elmcrest Terrace is home to 18 families. Gov. Dannel Malloy was among those trumpeting the importance of such facilities: The lack of supportive housing is the one of the biggest barriers for women with children, jeopardizing their recovery, according to a press release.
“This is what change looks like,” Malloy said. “This is what change is. If you want to change a community, it begins with four walls and a roof and the stability and support that one needs to survive and prosper.”
The newly renovated building just down the road from Norwalk Hospital houses one one-bedroom apartment and 17 two-bedroom furnished apartments with appliances provided courtesy of GE Capital. A fitness room is yet to be populated with exercise equipment, and the community room, named after former Mayor Richard Moccia, will house computers with Internet access.
Families moved in three weeks ago. “I am just so fortunate that I was able to get one of these apartments,” said a woman who declined to be identified. “It means that I am finally getting my life back together. It’s a great feeling.”
She said she had been using opiates and has been clean for 10 months.
Gini’s House also offers supportive services, including job training, education and employment assistance. It was named after Virginia Bantle, whose late husband bought the building and made a sizable contribution to fund the project’s groundwork, the press release said. Bantle’s son, Bob Bantle, said his mother had helped his father to sobriety and held the family together with faith.
Liberation Programs President and CEO Alan Mathis said it was a big day, but he didn’t get too excited at such events.
“I feel a sense of joy at this moment, but there are a thousand people that we treat at Liberation Programs every day,” Mathis said. “Most of them live in poverty, systematically institutionalized lack of opportunity, and they have no hopes and dreams. It’s been snuffed out by the alcohol and drugs they use to medicate their pain. … The work is not done. There is more for us to do.”
The funding of the project includes $5.4 million in Low Income Tax Credits invested by United Healthcare through a partnership with Enterprise Community Investment Inc., according to the press release. The Connecticut Department of Community and Economic Development (DECD) provided a $2 million loan, Liberation Programs contributed $343,000 in private support and the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provided a $49,000 grant, the release said.
Malloy said the project was important to him. As mayor of Stamford, he had a role in the development of thousands of housing units, he said. That included affordable housing and housing under HUD’s Hope VI program.
“We as a state are committed once again, for the first time in 20 years, to housing,” Malloy said. “In fact, my administration has appropriated more money in 3½ years for housing than had been appropriated in the prior 20 years. That is the scale of what we are doing. We already have a half billion dollars in commitments as we speak.”
Robin DePaiva cradled her 5-week-old son, Patrick, as she stood between Malloy and Mathis to cut the ribbon for Gini’s House, where she and Patrick live. She said she came to Liberation Programs when she was two or three months pregnant.
“This program has really helped me a lot. It has given me a new chance for life,” DePaiva said. “It has given me an amazing place to raise my son at, (a) safe environment, caring people. I am really grateful for this opportunity that you all have given us. Thank you for all the help. I don’t know what else to say.”
Mayor Harry Rilling indicated that there may be more projects like this in the future.
“Alan (Mathis) just said, ‘You want to do some other things in Norwalk?’” Rilling said. “I said ‘bring it on.’”