Groundbreaking launches property-rebirth plan to improve Hartford’s North End
HARTFORD – A new effort to ensure access to affordable housing was launched Thursday at a groundbreaking event hailed by developers as a rebirth for the former Barbour Gardens apartment complex.
Heritage Housing Inc., the property developer, joined representatives of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, Connecticut Department of Housing, City of Hartford, the office of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), PNC Bank, and Capital for Change Inc. to celebrate the milestone and inspect the renovations.
Since the 1960s, the site at 383 Barbour Street has played an important role in the city's effort to provide affordable housing. But years of neglect and deterioration had pushed it toward desolation, culminating in the relocation of all residents from the buildings in 2019.
Over several years, a team effort among Connecticut-based organizations generated a renewal plan for the building that, on completion, is expected to have a positive impact on its North End neighborhood.
The $10.54 million renovation is being undertaken by Norwalk-based Heritage Housing Inc. and is part of a larger $37 million acquisition and renovation project encompassing five separate affordable housing properties in Hartford.
The developer anticipates re-opening an extensively upgraded, 74-unit complex in early 2022, including 48 units offering Section 8 assistance and 26 units of additional affordable housing.
“Many developers would walk away from a challenging property like this,” said David McCarthy, Heritage Housing's founder and president. “But we live and work in Connecticut, too, and my view is that – if you work in the field of affordable housing and witness degradation as in Barbour Gardens – you should do something to help.”
Brian Robinson, senior vice president for originations and capital markets for Columbus, Ohio-based National Affordable Housing Trust (NAHT), spoke at the event on behalf of Wallingford-based Capital for Change Inc. NAHT is a joint venture of San Francisco-based Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF) and Washington, D.C.-based Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future (SAHF).
“We are proud to be part of this collaborative effort with like-minded partners, providing a meaningful and impactful investment that will transform this neglected building with unacceptable living conditions into a home for 84 families who can have an affordable, quality place to live in Hartford,” Robinson said.
“Renovating the Barbour Gardens apartments is cause to celebrate,” said Nandini Natarajan, chief executive officer and executive director of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA).
“CHFA financing and low-income housing tax credits in this property – and the four other Heritage Housing properties soon to be renovated – will improve the quality of life for residents and preserve a total of 206 affordable housing units in the City of Hartford,” Natarajan added.
The renovated complex will include a new community room and office, features that had been absent earlier, McCarthy said. Unit interiors will be entirely redone, including new plumbing, HVAC, fire protection, safety features, in-unit laundry connections, roofs and windows.
“This is going to address every deficiency in the building,” McCarthy said. “We’re also consolidating some of the smallest units into larger ones, to accommodate larger families,” he said.
Founded in 2017, Heritage Housing has worked to redevelop sites in Connecticut, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Vermont, and Michigan. The company became interested in Barbour Gardens in 2018 but faced several months of uncertainty in the wake of HUD’s Section 8 termination.
By 2019, the former Barbour Gardens had become so infested with mold and vermin that tenants’ health and safety were threatened. Local community groups led by the Center for Leadership and Justice (formerly the Christian Activities Council) organized a residents' effort to make public officials aware of the unsafe conditions. As a result, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development terminated the site’s Section 8 contract and all tenants eventually relocated. Left unoccupied, the property faced a blighted future.
As complications ensued, Heritage Housing cancelled its purchase contracts a number of times, but continued to consider the site's potential for improvement.
“We just kept working on solutions,” McCarthy said. “In many ways, people had just turned their backs on this property, and we didn’t want to do that. We want to do projects that are beneficial to the state of Connecticut, our home state.”
McCarthy commended the staff of Capital for Change for its persistence in working with his company as well as the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, the U.S. Department of HUD, the City of Hartford, the Hartford Community Loan Fund and New York-based Local Initiatives Support Corporation. Their combined effort helped shape a financial package that made the purchase and renovation feasible.
As part of that effort, in late 2019 the staff of Capital for Change closed on a $2.3 million predevelopment/acquisition loan that prevented the property from going into foreclosure. At the same time, McCarthy worked to secure permanent financing, including low-income housing tax credits.
“A project such as this is core to our mission – to broaden access to affordable housing for underserved communities,” said Carla Weil, director of commercial lending at Capital for Change. “The project is transformational for this neighborhood, with which we're familiar because the site is close to others where we’ve also invested.”
The level of financial support from Capital for Change for the project was significant, Weil said, adding that any concerns the organization’s staff might have had were reduced when they considered Heritage Housing’s track record and personal persistence.
“We had a great deal of confidence in the developer and their commitment to the changes they were proposing,” Weil said. “So, we determined that this project was important for us to support.”
The new $37 million financing package repaid the Capital for Change acquisition loan and provided funds to renovate all five properties, including Barbour Gardens. The Connecticut Housing Finance Authority provided a $20.9 million first mortgage and authorized $13.9 million of low-income housing tax credits, which were purchased by PNC Bank. The U.S. Department of HUD renewed four existing Section 8 contracts and – working with Heritage Housing and the City of Hartford – provided new Section 8 assistance to the Barbour Gardens property.
More information about Heritage Housing Inc. may be found online at HeritageHousingInc.com. More information about Capital for Change is available online at CapitalForChange.org and the organization's Facebook page, “Capital for Change, Inc.”
Capital for Change's mission is to provide flexible, creative and responsive financial products and services to benefit low- and moderate-income persons, and minority and otherwise underserved individuals, businesses and communities. Its programs and products broaden access to affordable housing, energy efficiency and job opportunities.
Capital for Change Inc. was created in 2016 through the mergers of the Community Capital Fund, Connecticut Housing Investment Fund and the Greater New Haven Community Loan Fund, shaping an organization with a statewide history of service stretching back to 1968.