Mike McGarry: Stop Asylum Hill Low-Income Housing Plan

A plan by the Chrysalis Center to convert four historic buildings near Asylum Avenue and Huntington Street in Hartford for residential use — with 25 percent of the units set aside for supportive housing and the remaining units restricted to people of low income — is a formula to undo efforts at having balanced development of the neighborhood.

I urge the Connecticut Department of Housing, which is now considering Chrysalis Center's funding request for the project, to look very closely at the long-term consequences of removing potentially viable properties from the market.

At a recent meeting of the Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association, which I attended, neighborhood concerns about the project were summarily dismissed by the Crysalis representative. The project was presented as a "done deal" and that while it would be "nice to have a letter of support, it wasn't necessary."

So, the center is pushing ahead with its plan despite the fact that two supportive housing projects already exist directly across the street from the proposed development, and hundreds of units of low-income restricted housing are located around the corner.

Hartford faces immense challenges with regard to creating a viable future, and efforts to effectively use the limited space in the geographically constrained city should not be ignored. Developing higher concentrations of what is really low-income housing goes against long-term city policy. Over the last 25 years, the city specifically spread out all of its low-income housing, seeking to create a healthier mix of housing in its neighborhoods. This policy recognized that such concentrations of people in need benefits no one — especially those in limited circumstances.

Asylum Hill is home to 16,000 residents, two large international corporations, dozens of small businesses and institutions and is about to see a clash between involved neighbors and The Chrysalis Center.

The center has a long history in Asylum Hill. Years ago, in the early 1990s, the center tried to establish a drop-in center for people with mental illness at 36 Woodland St. and lost a protracted battle with the neighbors over what finally was determined to be an inappropriate location.

Since then, the center moved most of its operation to Homestead Avenue, to a location that just about everyone thinks is proper and well thought out. The center worked closely with all its neighbors, giving plenty of notification about their plans to renovate and develop at Homestead and allowing for lots of input.

However, it looks like Chrysalis has fallen back on the tactics of earlier years with another expansion and little or no notification to or cooperation with affected neighbors.

I want to be clear that, up to now, the track record of the Chrysalis Center has been first rate. There is no argument that the projects they have developed, own and manage are acceptable. At issue here, and of deep concern to the neighborhood, is the high concentration of affordable housing in Hartford and Asylum Hill.

Asylum Hill reports a homeownership rate of merely 9 percent. And, according to the Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association board, the neighborhood has one of the highest concentration of social services in the state. Any city that hopes to be economically viable yet allows a high concentration of affordable versus market rate housing is neither sustainable nor wise.

Northside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance and Habitiat For Humanity have, step by step, invested millions of dollars in opening homeownership opportunities for middle and working class families in Asylum Hill. The Chrysalis project would be a giant step back from the progress of the last decade.

Mike McGarry lives in the Asylum Hill neighborhood of Hartford. He is a member of Asylum Hill Neighborhood Association, works with the Northside Institutions Neighborhood Alliance on civic projects and runs the Knox Community garden. A Republican, he was on the city council from 1993 to 1999.

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