The discussion followed the recent tour of Washington Village by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) officials as part of the process of deciding which of six finalists will get a Choice Neighborhoods Initiative grant.
“We are cautiously optimistic,” NHA Deputy Director Candace Mayer said at Wednesday’s board meeting. “The other really good news we heard that day is that it sounds like, without making a commitment, that they may access money from the next fiscal year to pull back and to make another award this year. So it looks like there might be four awards this year. You know, there were no commitments, it was very general. There was no breaking news, as we understood there wouldn’t be.”
The grant, if awarded, would help fund the Washington Village reconstruction project and much more. Phase I of that project will begin construction in the fall, whether or not the grant is awarded.
The tour was followed by a presentation at the South Norwalk Community Center, in an all-day event.
“They had lots of questions on the neighborhood component. … I think HUD is really learning about how to impact, not just the housing project but the greater neighborhood,” Mayer said. “They had lots of questions about that. They were particularly concerned about the potential loss of low-income units through gentrification once the area was revitalized. There is a plan to try to address that though the Redevelopment Agency.”
Norwalk is the smallest city by far to be named a finalist. Board Chairman Cesar Ramirez said that might work in Norwalk’s favor.
“Any dollar that they are going to be investing in the city is going to be invested very well,” he said. “The result of this will be phenomenal, very positive, versus a larger city. If you have maybe a few million dollars, how much every improvement or quality of life will be enhanced? The enhancement of the quality of life in this community … will be huge.”
Chamber of Commerce President Ed Musante was among those expressing support for the project during the presentation, she said. Norwalk Superintendent Manny Rivera spoke to the officials as well, she said. Ramirez led the tour.
The community center’s walls were covered with illustrations of the project, which showed the planning that had been done, Mayer said.
“I was very impressed when I walked into the South Norwalk Community Center in the way the preparation was done,” Ramirez said. “It was very well taken care of. People said, ‘Wow. This is how it looks, how it will look in the future.’ And the comments from some very powerful people that were there. If these guys didn’t get impressed by that then nothing is going to impress them.”