For the past decade or so, a bright spot in Hartford has been the evolution of public housing. Thanks to the efforts of former Hartford Housing Authority Executive Director John Wardlaw and former Mayor Mike Peters, all but one of the city's old, decaying, drug-infested housing projects have been torn down or extensively renovated and replaced with handsome new rental and ownership housing.
Mr. Wardlaw and Mr. Peters are, sadly, no longer with us. But their successors, Mayor Eddie Perez and housing authority chief Alan Green, hope to continue their legacy with two major developments this year.
The last of the old housing projects, Nelton Court in Hartford's Northeast section, will come down. Some Nelton buildings have already met the wrecking ball. The remaining barracks-style brick structures containing 120 units will be replaced by 80 attractive apartments. Mr. Green likened the feel of the new project, if not the design, to the highly successful Hope VI project at the former Dutch Point project.
In addition, the housing authority will use most of a $5 million stimulus grant to remake some of the authority's "scattered site" residences.
The scattered site program was a good concept imperfectly executed. The idea was to break people out of the large projects, which had become concentrations of poverty, and salt them into diverse, stable neighborhoods. But some of the scattered site buildings did not fit into their neighborhoods. Indeed, some resemble tiny jails, with iron bars over the windows and fire escapes that take up the whole backyard.
That will change dramatically, Mr. Green said, at 22 sites comprising 44 units. There will be security windows instead of bars, a different system of emergency exit, porches, new furnaces, vibrant colors and landscaping.
"My goal is that no one will be able to distinguish a Hartford Housing Authority home from any other home in the neighborhood," Mr. Green said.
This is the kind of incremental, small-scale improvement that makes good sense. There's no reason public housing has to be unattractive. And when it is attractive, it inspires neighbors to improve their properties, to the benefit of the broader city. "People are influenced by what the Joneses are doing," Mr. Green said. "In this case, we want to be the Joneses."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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