Ansonia Mayor James Della Volpe said officials at the department of Housing and Urban Development need to loosen the reins they hold over the federally subsidized housing complex on Olson Drive.
The city is in the process of tearing down the old Riverside apartment buildings, which are antiquated and in disrepair. The demolition of four apartment buildings containing 59 apartments is scheduled to start in the next few weeks.
Ansonia is obligated to create 48 new subsidized housing units to partially replace the ones being torn down, but HUD and Ansonia City Hall are butting heads over how to create those replacement units.
HUD wants the land redeveloped for housing. Ansonia wants the land left as open space.
Della Volpe said HUD’s thinking is stuck in the days when factory jobs were plentiful in Ansonia. Those days are long gone and it isn’t fair to saddle Ansonia with more federally subsidized housing than surrounding communities, he said.
“How many Section 8 vouchers are in Bethany? Three? I know it’s three because I looked it up. Three. We have close to 450,” Della Volpe said. “That’s not fair. Between Seymour and Shelton, they have a few hundred, if that. But we have 450.”
The neighborhoods surrounding Olson Drive are densely populated. Open space within that section of Ansonia is non-existent. They would prefer to see the land left as green space, which is better for Ansonia, Della Volpe said.
The city is willing to purchase the land from HUD and was considering putting it to voters as part of a June referendum. The city wants to spread the replacement housing throughout the city instead of building again on Olson Drive.
However, HUD is pressuring the city to redevelop Olson Drive to include federally subsidized housing.
HUD suggests a mix of income levels could make the development attractive to the city because it would generate tax revenue.
“Regarding the Olson Drive property, the land has a declaration of trust in place held by HUD,” Rhonda Siciliano, a spokesperson for HUD New England, said via e-mail. “The declaration of trust restricts the use to low-income/affordable housing. HUD has not agreed to release the Declaration of Trust to convert to other use.”
“The land cannot be sold without HUD permission,” Siciliano said.
At an Ansonia Housing Authority commission meeting June 12, an official from HUD’s Hartford office stressed that her division controls federal subsidies received by Ansonia senior citizens and Section 8 tenants.
“We will be ready to impose sanctions,” the official, Jennifer Gottlieb, warned Ansonia June 12.
Gottlieb made the comments while questioning whether the housing authority was dragging its feet because its members had not given HUD a detailed plan for redeveloping Olson Drive.
Click play to listen to an audio clip from the June 12 meeting.
Mayor Won’t Roll Over
Della Volpe told the Valley Indy June 20 that he is reaching out to Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Sen. Chris Murphy and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro for help.
The mayor said he wants HUD to be more flexible regarding Olson Drive’s future. Open space is needed in the neighborhood, not high-density housing, and the city has already demonstrated its commitment to public housing through the hundreds of Section 8 vouchers it honors, Della Volpe said.
Furthermore, the mayor said HUD should recognize the drastic changes in Ansonia’s economy since the Riverside complex was built.
“Much has changed in our city over the last 50 years since the project at Olson Drive was originally built,” Della Volpe said in a prepared statement. “Large forces such as globalization, advances in technology and cheaper foreign labor have reduced, eliminated or taken our industrial jobs elsewhere.”
Della Volpe said the city can no longer support the Olson Drive complex.
“Meanwhile, those multi-family homes have become places where people who are unemployed or unemployable have taken residence over the last generation or two. This long-term development has taxed our schools and public safety systems and we need help,” he said in his statement.
Meanwhile, the Ansonia Housing Authority commission voted June 12 to begin revising a 2012 agreement they have with HUD calling for 100 units on Olson Drive.
The commissioners also voted to authorize a $214,200 contract with Tise Design Associates to begin working on a plan detailing how Ansonia will create 48 new subsidized housing units to replace the ones being torn down on Olson Drive.
That plan could be tricky, because HUD is insisting that some of those units go back on Olson Drive, per the 2012 agreement, which is published below.
“The Ansonia Housing Authority obtained demolition/disposition approval of 59 units of public housing at Olson Drive in June 2012 subject to a condition for replacement units onsite. This condition has not been modified,” Siciliano, the New England HUD spokesperson, told the Valley Indy in an e-mail June 17.
Siciliano’s e-mail backs up what HUD Connecticut’s Jennifer Gottlieb told the Ansonia Housing Authority Commissioners June 12.
Modern public housing is not what residents currently live in on Olson Drive. The buildings are 59 years old, according to HUD, and have significant mold and mildew problems because of leaky roofs.
But the land could be redeveloped in a way that benefits Ansonia, HUD officials said.
“Mixed-income redevelopment can incorporate low income housing with other types of units that mix incomes and generate taxes. HUD has expressed that this would be the model they would expect Ansonia to adopt to meet their obligations under the agreement,” Siciliano said.
“Open Space, walking, play areas can and should be incorporated into that development plan. These goals should be discussed with the design team,” she said.
The next meeting of the Ansonia Housing Authority commission is scheduled for 6 p.m. June 26 at the authority’s offices at 36 Main St. Meetings are open to the public.