Ansonia broke its promise to the federal government to redevelop Olson Drive, according to a fair housing complaint filed against the city, Mayor James Della Volpe and the Ansonia Housing Authority.
The complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), asks HUD to:
- Force Ansonia to build 48 units of federally-subsidized housing on the south side of the Riverside Apartments as part of a larger, mixed-income development. It was a plan the Ansonia Housing Authority had already agreed to in 2012, according to the complaint.
- Reject any proposal to transfer ownership of Olson Drive to the city.
- Continue to maintain the north side of the Riverside Apartments on Olson Drive as low-income housing until the city produces a federally-approved redevelopment plan.
The complaint was filed by the New Haven Legal Assistance Association on behalf of Malika Mosley, the former president of the Riverside Tenants Association.
Mosley was relocated from the Olson Drive complex last year to another Ansonia apartment. She was promised that she — along with other residents — would be allowed to move back once the demolition of the buildings were complete and new units were built on Olson Drive.
That demolition is currently under way, but the city is walking away from the promise it made to the federal government and the Riverside tenants, according to the housing complaint.
Mosley feels like the city pulled a bait-and-switch on residents of the Riverside Apartments.
“The initial plan was ‘We’re going to tear this down, rebuild, and if you want to come back, you could,’” Mosley said.
But since she moved, she’s been hearing and seeing comments from public officials indicating that might not happen, she said.
“Now they’re talking about green space and everybody has no idea what’s going to happen next,” Mosley said.
The fair housing complaint comes after members of the Ansonia Board of Aldermen put an item on their Nov. 5 referendum asking the public to approve $330,000 to be used to purchase Olson Drive land, which is currently controlled by the federal government.
Ansonia officials have said they want to see open space on Olson Drive in order to reduce density in the area, an idea popular with city residents.
The city and the members of the Ansonia Housing Authority have acknowledged that they need to come up with low-income replacement units, but they want to spread those units throughout the city.
It was one of many ideas discussed at an especially testy meeting in June between members of the Ansonia Housing Authority and Jennifer Gottlieb, an official with HUD. Gottlieb said the city’s desire to spread the low-income units all over the city wasn’t realistic, a point made again in the fair housing complaint.
Gottlieb warned officials at the time they risked running afoul of federal fair housing law unless they redeveloped Olson Drive as a mix of low-income housing units and others. Click here to read more.
The Ansonia Housing Authority signed an agreement with HUD in June 2012 promising to redevelop Olson Drive into a 100-unit complex with a mix of income levels, including 48 low-income units.
But the complaint alleges that the members of the housing authority were all replaced by Della Volpe cronies and that the mayor effectively controls what they do.
The complaint maintains that the residents of Riverside are mostly African-American females with children and are among the poorest people in the state, and that the city’s actions are discriminatory because the city, by not following its plan to redevelop Olson Drive, is denying them housing.
In past interviews with the Valley Indy Della Volpe has said that he is working with federal officials with the hope HUD will not require Olson Drive to be completely redeveloped for housing.
Ansonia has plenty of affordable and low-income housing, city officials have said, especially when compared to neighboring towns and cities.
Della Volpe said Monday evening he had not yet read the complaint and would have more to say Tuesday, after he does.
He did reiterate that he wants the property to be open space once the buildings come down.
“It’s still my position that we’ve done our fair share for affordable housing,” Della Volpe said. “I’m still going to have discussions with HUD in regard to what’s going back, if anything, into that site . . . That’s all I can say right now.”
At a mayoral debate Oct. 24, Della Volpe said the demo of the Olson Drive buildings is part of a larger plan to make the city a better place to live. The mayor said after the fatal shooting of a young man there in 2002, the tenants themselves said they wanted Olson Drive cleaned up for a better quality of life.
“We’ve followed every HUD regulation, policy that they’ve thrown at us,” Della Volpe said.
The debate over the future of the Olson Drive properties has been confusing, with local officials saying HUD is willing to work with Ansonia, but HUD spokespeople issuing statements contradicting those officials.
Shelley White, litigation director at the New Haven Legal Assistance Association, said HUD officials will now investigate the complaint for themselves.
If that investigation produces “reasonable cause to believe that discrimination has occurred or is about to occur,” an administrative law judge from HUD would hold a hearing on the case and could order the city to adhere to the plan it agreed to with HUD originally.
The judge, whose decision could be appealed to the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, could also hand down civil penalties of up to $11,000 per offense.
White said the arguments city officials have made about the need for open space are a convenient excuse to scotch the property being redeveloped as public housing.
The city does have open space on its west side, she pointed out.
“Ansonia’s gotten all this money to do a Riverwalk, and that’s lovely, and it’s a vital part of Ansonia,” White said. “I think Ansonia’s made a lot of progress in terms of developing open space.”
But the focus on open space on Olson Drive “seems to only undo a commitment that they had previously made. That certainly didn’t come up when HUD first asked for (the city’s plans to redevelop the property).”
White said communities like Ansonia need public housing.
“It’d be nice to say that public housing should be a transition to home ownership or to secure housing in the private market. Everyone who lives in public housing wishes that were the case,” White said. “(But) we live in a society in which minimum wage does not pay for people to be able to afford housing in the private market. Thank goodness there is some housing out there for people where the cost is reflective of the income they can make.”
Mosley said it’s unfair to paint people who lived on Olson Drive, and continue to live there, with a broad brush.
“We’re not all uneducated and we’re not all unemployable,” Mosley, who works at Prendergast School, said Monday. “Look at how many people in the country get food stamps. They’re not all black people on Olson Drive.”