The Refurbished Apartments On Mortson Street Were Supposed To Be A Showcase Of Urban Renewal. But They Leak And Nobody Cares.
April 5, 2007
By ADAM BULGER, Hartford Advocate Staff Writer
Dave and Valerie Carrier don’t want to leave their refurbished “perfect six” Hartford apartment house. But they say the city and their building’s developers are making it hard for them to stay.
When I spoke with them, they complained about problems they’ve had with their home, and the ways that the contractors have failed to fulfill their obligations. According to the Carriers, the windows were never installed properly. Water leaks through the ceiling. Their driveway was never properly built. Getting functioning streetlights installed took longer than it should have.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way, they said.
“Everything inside was brand new. We moved out of a Victorian that needed a ton of work. Everything here was supposed to be brand new and up to code,” David Carrier said.
The Carriers own half of a historic perfect six (a classic six-room apartment design) building on Mortson Street in Hartford’s Frog Hollow neighborhood that was rehabilitated as part of the Mortson Street/Putnam Heights development.
Before the project was started in 2000, Mortson was a row of blighted, burnt-out buildings. A consortium of non-profit and for-profit development groups, including Hartford non-profit developer Broad-Park Development Corporation, nonprofit housing developer the Corporation for Independent Living, and for profit developer Milano Corp., spent $8.4 million of private, city and state dollars to convert 16 perfect six buildings. Although refurbishing historic homes was not a new idea for Hartford, the large-scale nature of the project was unique.
“Doing the homes all at the same time, we were trying to create a critical mass that you’re making a big change in the neighborhood at once, hoping that it would spur development all around,” said Andrea Pereira, the senior program director for Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), the group that helped finance the development.
The project was also the first time that Hartford employed the Connecticut Historic Homes Rehabilitation tax credit. According to the state’s culture and tourism Web site, the credit is meant for “selected federal census tracts with family income levels below the state median.” However, unlike similar projects, the Mortson Street/Putnam Heights project didn’t have an income cap. “It wasn’t an effort to get higher income people to move in at the expense of the people who already live here. But these were vacant buildings that no one was living in,” said Pereira. “The idea was that if we could have a mix of income to bring more diversity to the neighborhood, that would be a good thing.”
The homes were sold cheaply (the Carrier’s home cost $99,000) and the homeowners received tax incentives for contracting to live in the homes for seven years; the city wanted owner-occupied housing and provided tax relief for the owners for the first seven years they lived in the building.
The reconverted houses are striking, both inside and out, especially when contrasted with the non-refurbished houses still on the street.
“We thought buyers would be attracted there because they could get the larger townhouses with a historic character, and that would make them more attractive to buyers as well. It was two things — wanting to keep the historic character, and wanting to take vacant and blighted buildings, and turn them into home ownership, while preserving the architecture,” Pereira said.
The project was touted as a great success for the city; according to residents, tour buses would regularly cart investors through the streets.
“The people who bought these homes made a real commitment to come into Hartford. That commitment doesn’t seem to have been reciprocated,” Frog Hollow Neighborhood Revitalization chief David Corrigan said.
The Carriers aren’t the only Mortson Street household that’s experienced dramatic problems. Robert Howard has lived with his family on Mortson for five years. He said that while he is happy with the progress the neighborhood has made — he cited that he feels much safer about letting his children play in the neighborhood — he was disappointed with the structural problems on his building.
“There has been nothing but problems, especially with the damage the water has caused and the way we are constantly being pushed aside every time we address the problems,” Howard said. “The city wants more homeowners, but they don’t want to take the responsibility for the shabby work that’s being put out there.”
City officials and developers involved with the project did not return calls seeking comment.
During a 2006 rainstorm, Howard’s building experienced epic water leakage — he described the effect as akin to living inside a waterfall.
“We had water coming through to the first floor for nine days,” Howard said.
The problems extend beyond the structural issues. While most of the people in the neighborhood agree that safety has improved vastly over the several years, problems remain. Complaints range from cars speeding on the street to drug dealing. The city government hasn’t been responsive to their concerns, residents say.
In late 2006, the city released what it called an “improvement action plan” for the North Frog Hollow neighborhood, including the Mortson Street/Putnam Heights development. However, one observer said that it was a way that the city could appear to respond to demands without taking any real actions.
With the seven-year home ownership requirement coming up in the next couple of years, the Carriers said they believe many of their neighbors will move.
“We’re at the point where a lot of neighbors are going to leave,” said Valerie Carrier. “What happened to home ownership?”