April 10, 2007
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
As the Hartford Housing Authority considers a long-term redevelopment plan for the decades-old, rundown Westbrook Village and Bowles Park housing projects, the short-term financial picture isn't pretty.
So the authority's board is trying to get the state to chip in at the two state-financed housing complexes that have historically gotten little or no state operating aid. The authority wants about $800,000 - the amount it stands to lose this year keeping the two developments open.
"We're trying to keep Bowles and Westbrook afloat in the interim until we can actually start breaking ground, so to speak, over the next few years," said Mark Ojakian, the authority's board chairman. If the authority gets the money, Ojakian said, it "would be able to provide the level of service that we need to provide to the residents in terms of maintenance."
Much of the state's public housing was built as moderate rental housing that - unlike subsidized federal housing - was intended to pay for itself from the rents that its residents paid.
But as units got run down and public housing became less desirable, the rents couldn't keep up with the expenses the complexes demanded. It takes roughly $2.7 million to keep Westbrook and Bowles open; rents bring in barely $1.9 million.
In a letter last week to state budget director Robert Genuario, Ojakian asked for the $800,000 operating subsidy that would keep the two projects out of debt.
Genuario's office said Monday that it is too early in the budget process to comment on the request's viability.
Although the state does not subsidize operating expenses at Westbrook and Bowles, it has set aside $2.9 million in bonding funds for lead abatement and exterior site work at the two developments.
Roughly $2 million of that is for site work, including parking lots and landscaping. That process is in the planning stages.
The lead abatement was completed in late 2006 and came in under budget by $340,000. The authority will now use that money for other needs at Westbrook Village and Bowles Park. Those needs are still being considered, Ojakian said.
"My inclination is to take a look at how many units need to be remediated [regarding] mold and mildew immediately," he said. "We want to remediate it in the short term and prevent it from coming back."
The sooner the better for people like Shatoya Oates and her two young boys.
They live alone in a four-unit building that Oates says was broken into over the weekend. She says the mold was once painted over in her apartment, but that it's much worse in the apartments of her friends. And while the lead paint may have been abated, residents' concerns about the authority have not.
"It's encouraging to me if they do the right thing with the money," said Oates, a member of the Blue Hills Civic Association's leadership team. "But if they use it for anything that doesn't have to do with helping out the conditions of these people that live out there, then no - I'm not going to cheer them if they're not spending the money wisely."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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