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Norwalk Housing Authority project scrutinized by skeptics

 

Diane Cece on Monday night holds up a promotional flyer presented to Norwalk Washington Village residents, saying that as someone who grew up in public housing, she can understand the appeal of the plan.

By Nancy Guenther Chapman

NORWALK, Conn. – Plans to rebuild an aging Norwalk Housing Authority (NHA) project were looked at with suspicion Monday night by the Coalition of Norwalk Neighborhood Association (CNNA) members.

The issues surrounding an NHA application for a HUD grant to raze and rebuild 136-unit Washington Village were debated and analyzed by 10 people for more than an hour at City Hall.

“You have the $2 million giveaway,” said Diane Cece of the East Norwalk Neighborhood Association. “You have Ryan Park inclusion in their surveys and then you have whether or not the people of Washington Village are being pushed out.”

CNNA members said plans at present include leasing the Day Street property for a nominal amount to the developer of the project, which will include 273 units, a mix of workforce (affordable housing), public housing and market rate housing. Members see that as giving away city property and getting little in return.

“Even with Waypointe, we were supposed to be getting free infrastructure,” said Common Council member Anna Duleep (D-At Large), of the Silvermine Community Association. “With this we don’t even get the infrastructure and we have to pay for everything else. What do we get out of it?”

Plans also include using Ryan Park as the green space the project needs to qualify for HUD funding, Ganga Duleep said. NHA officials have been inviting Washington Village residents to barbecues and handing them questionnaires asking them for feedback on the park and other things, she said. CNNA members thought that odd since the park belongs to the city and the NHA has no jurisdiction over it.

Ganga Duleep, who fought for years to establish the park and who encourages community involvement in its upkeep and design, said she heard about that from residents. “Nobody was upfront,” she said.

There is a meeting scheduled at 7 p.m. Dec. 4 in the community room at police headquarters to give residents two Ryan Park redesign options to consider. Both options, being put forward by Norwalk Department of Parks and Recreation, include a half-basketball court. Neither has a baseball field.

Ganga Duleep said neither option would work for the people who are in the area now. “I see them all the time, I know what their needs are,” she said. “Those kids use that basketball court there all the time because that’s what they have. They want a full court. They want a baseball field there. Those kids want a league.”

“That shows you where the focus will be for the type of tenants they want to come back,” said Corrine Weston of the Sono Alliance.

There are other problems. Several tenants suffered major losses caused by flooding from Superstorm Sandy. Many lost kitchen appliances and cannot afford to replace them out of pocket. Still, NHA plans a Dec. 17 inspection to see that all units have replaced the damaged appliances. When the new units are built, residents in good standing have the option to come back to the new development, but those who don’t make the Dec. 17 deadline for inspection will not be considered in good standing, CNNA members said.

The rent for Washington Village residents was originally calculated with a deduction allowing for the expense of a stove and refrigerator, according to a letter from NHA to the residents and signed by NHA Executive Director Curtis Law. To cover their losses, most residents are receiving money from FEMA, the letter states.

Residents are also required to provide City Carting-approved trash receptacles. “Who’s going to guard your trash 24/7?” asked Anna Duleep.

CNNA members expressed concern about potential delays in construction once the old units are knocked down.

The project could become another “supreme embarrassment” for Norwalk, like Waypointe, 95/7 and Wall Street Place, said Bob Wagman. “I would be among the most vocal, I think, if we enter into a new development program without penalties for missing deadlines,” he said.

Cece wondered if it would be another situation of “holding the council hostage,” as a developer knocks down an existing property and then tries to changes the conditions of its deal with the city.

CNNA President Julie Burton agreed with many of the concerns, but said, “Washington Village has to be replaced. It is falling apart. It is inefficient, the construction is not good, they haven’t kept it up very well. You’ve got to come up with options. You can’t just say, ‘Oh, we don’t like this one, we don’t like that one.’”

Correction made, 1:56 p.m.

Comments

One response to “Norwalk Housing Authority project scrutinized by skeptics”

  1. Suzanne

    CNNA President Julie Burton states above that “You can’t just say, ‘Oh, we don’t like this one, we don’t like that one.’” and I maintain that that is exactly what you can do. Ganga Duleep DOES know the community, has spent a great deal of time there and knows of which she speaks. She does not have to like the requirements being put forth. A community forum needs to field every objection, every suggestion. These need to be prioritized based on the constituency involved, written down on a large white board and examined. Does the plan address all these needs? What about the people who live at the Day Street facility? What do they want? I am learning to dislike to the point of hatred the way these development meetings are conducted in the City of Norwalk: it is always community input after the fact. The developer has been secured, has most of the required permits and any community/taxpayer feedback seems a mere formality. These regulations need to be changed. The developer cannot be the prime mover. The community should be.

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