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Interim Housing Chief On Predecessor's Path

Commentary By Stan Simpson
May 18, 2005

In the late 1960s, little Lance Gordon would hitch a ride from his home in Stowe Village to the nearby Hartford Golf Club in West Hartford. There the kid from the Hartford projects would spend five hours caddying for some of the city's elite - CEOs, doctors, lawyers and the like.

Between the honchos at the private club and Gordon's entrepreneurial godfather, gas station and real estate owner Reinford Henry, the young man was surrounded by high achievers. It was heady company for a 14-year-old, the oldest of six kids, raised mostly by his mother.

Gordon would go on to earn a master's degree in city planning from Harvard and attend MIT. As a developer and urban planner he built millions of dollars in affordable housing and businesses in Greater Hartford. He even worked for a short stint in opulent Greenwich, where he was the town's director of planning and development.

Lancelot A. Gordon Jr., 57, was recently named interim executive director of the Hartford Housing Authority. He replaces John Wardlaw, who retired after 28 years. While a national search for Wardlaw's successor begins, Gordon's job is to push the virtue of homeownership to poor people and guide them to the new Stowe Village and Charter Oak Terrace - and soon the new Dutch Point.

The Housing Authority couldn't have found a better fit to replace the legendary Wardlaw, a man with a commanding presence, a healthy ego and the patience to wait 30 years to see his dream of blowing up and rebuilding public housing come to fruition.

Once known as drug and crime havens, Stowe, Charter Oak and Dutch Point are now development sites for hundreds of publicly subsidized single-family homes and duplexes.

Gordon knows as well as anyone that if you can expose people labeled "poor" to the better things in life, you can elevate their ambitions and desires.

"You give somebody a nice roof over their head, and a nice environment, a backyard, it changes the psychology of how they perceive their community," he said Tuesday, sitting in his spacious office on Overlook Terrace. "It changes the psychology drastically. I think it's important to send a positive message to the kids that we can be involved in creating our own destiny, creating our own development and empowering our people to be in business and also control our communities."

While Hartford builds luxury housing downtown geared to the well-to-do, it's the uplifting of the poor that will add stability to a capital city's recovery.

Wardlaw took care of the razing and reconstruction of buildings. Gordon wants to make education and economics his forte - financial literacy, homeownership, and developing the discipline to save.

Pam Jones sat outside her three-bedroom home Tuesday in the new Stowe Village with her daughter, grandson and a friend. A paraprofessional at Clark Street School, Jones is emblematic of what Gordon is trying to achieve.

"It's a good start for people like me," said Jones, 38. "Low income and trying to build something for the future of my children. I think it's a great opportunity. And I'm glad someone had the vision for it. The house is nice. It was built well. They didn't just throw it together because it was going to be `low income.'"

It would be even nicer for Jones if the authority followed through on three promises - putting a screen door on the front door, building a backyard deck, and installing a fence to border the property.

Replacing Wardlaw will be a daunting endeavor. His successor likely won't have as much clout and will be working with a relatively new board of directors trying to find its voice and forge a direction.

Gordon, Wardlaw's former deputy, brings an appealing package of Ivy League credentials, community connections, development experience and street credibility. He'll make folks pay attention.

John Wardlaw left a huge footprint on Hartford's public housing. Lance Gordon is poised to make tracks of his own.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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