New Haven developer Juan Salas Romer is looking to turn three abandoned Dixwell Avenue neighborhood properties into eight apartments and a bakery, and he just came one step closer to doing that.
The Livable Cities Initiative Board of Directors has approved the transfer of the 27-29 Henry Street building-one of the three properties he purchased from the city and the proposed site for a couple of his envisioned apartment units. He still needs the green light from zoning-the property is attached to a parking lot so he would need approval to utilize it for housing-and then there’s another process he’s less than optimistic about.
Romer hopes to create openings for a mix of income brackets, but he will need a subsidy from the city in order to price some of the rents at affordable rate.
“In order for a new development to make a profit, you have to be able to get some help to bring down the rent,” he said. “I guess it’s a work in progress. We haven’t been as successful [with that]. At this point, it’s really up in the air.”
One subsidy Romer looked to obtain would have helped with construction costs as an incentive to including affordable units, but he says that he learned from Livable Cities Initiative, (LCI) that the program currently has no funding.
Some of those living in the area hope that that changes before the project is completed. Rent for a 2-bedroom apartment is right now slated to run for $1600 per month, but neighborhood residents say that people living in the Dixwell/Newhallville area typically pay around $800-$900 a month for housing.
“Most of that area, even the market rent would not be that much,” says Edwina Brown, who at 68, has lived in the Dixwell/Newhallville area of New Haven for 15 years. “There is no one [in that neighborhood] paying that much money. Trust me-no one.”
Elizabeth Robinson lives in the nearby Victory Gardens. Most of the apartments in her area are classified as either senior housing-like hers-or affordable.
But across the Farmington Canal and on the other side of Science Park is Winchester Lofts, another new housing development in the area. An affordable rate 2-bedroom apartment there can cost between $1058 and $1356 per month, with studios and single bedroom units in that category going for lesser rates.
And compared to the Lofts’ $2700 per month 2-bedroom market rate, $1600 is more reasonable, Romer says.
“You have a $1,000 difference there,” he said. “I think this is a middle class project.”
He plans to make the other six units 3-bedroom apartments-something he says other developments in the city tend to be short on. As of now, these will run for $2100 per month.
“They don’t really cater to families,” Romer said. “It’s important to emphasize that the housing will be for families making $50,000 to $60,000. That’s a working family. You have to have a place for them.”
In neighborhoods around the city the concern from low income residents has been over gentrification, and the outcry-such as the one regarding the proposed Hill to Downtown project discussed a year ago-is driven by the perception that New Haven seems to have fewer and fewer places for them.
Geno Foreman, was “born and raised in New Haven”-mostly the Dixwell Avenue and Newhallville neighborhoods. A 1965 Wilbur High School graduate, he spent some time in the military before moving to the Washington, D.C. area. He recently came back to Connecticut and settled in Meriden.
“Downtown, the demographics are changing,” Foreman said. “They’re fixing up, but it’s not for the people of New Haven. What’s gonna happen to them?”
That’s an issue Romer says he has been paying attention to as well. In 70 percent of his housing developments throughout the city, the residents are Section 8 tenants, he says.
“We have a long track record with New Haven Section 8,” Romer said. “We have properties in Newhallville, properties in Fair Haven, properties in the Hill-properties in the city where they need affordable housing.”
LCI Director Serena Neal-Sanjurjo did not return a message requesting comment.