Negotiations Stall Between Hartford Housing Authority, Developer
JEFFREY B. COHEN
April 16, 2009
A $300 million plan to knock down 770 units of public housing and build anew on prized land in the city's northwest corner is close to dead, as contract negotiations between the Hartford Housing Authority and the Boston developer it selected more than two years ago are at an impasse.
At the authority's Tuesday meeting, the mood was tense as the board, the developer and residents took turns venting and hoping for progress.
Marty Jones, developer Corcoran Jennison's president, said that "the hardest issues are always the last ones, and that's where we're at right now."
Board Chairman Mark Ojakian said that the authority was getting an unfair share of the blame. "We have a public responsibility to make sure that not only does this make sense financially for everybody, but that the needs of the residents are served," Ojakian said.
And resident Rose Price said she's ready for a change. "We need decent homes. We don't need the raggedy things we got," she said. "All of you got beautiful houses. But we're poor people. We deserve something better than this."
The 159 state-built units at Westbrook Village and Bowles Park have long been a financial drag on the authority. Intended for moderate-income renters, they get no operating money from the state. That has long meant that broken-down units haven't been filled, which meant less money coming in.
That could change now, as the authority works to fix up some units and rent them. But that's the short term. The long-term solution is much bigger.
In 2006, the authority chose Corcoran Jennison as its developer. It was a different authority then — the board had recently fired its executive director, and the board members would soon get ousted and replaced by Mayor Eddie A. Perez.
Since then, the two sides have tried to cement a deal. But both sides have significant concerns with the roles they are to play in the proposed development.
Letters back and forth show that the housing authority is concerned that it be a partner in the development and future management of Westbrook Village and Bowles Park. The authority says that developer Corcoran Jennison hasn't budged from its business model.
"The fact that they appear to be casting all the blame in the direction of the housing authority really is disingenuous," Ojakian said. "We want to be partners. We are not just handing over property to a private developer … because there's a public trust that goes along with overseeing public property with public funds."
Corcoran Jennison says that the authority has dragged its feet and that it "has insisted on its positions without considering any compromises."
In an interview Wednesday, Jones said that the terms the authority wants now have changed from 2006.
"There are very significant differences," Jones said, stressing that she wants to complete the project. "It's in their court to get back to me."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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