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Housing issues affect everyone in Connecticut, from those who are searching for a safe place to live, to those who may find it increasingly difficult to afford a place they already call home.WNPR is covering Connecticut's housing and homelessness issues in a series that examines how residents are handling the challenges they face. We look at the trends that matter most right now, and tell stories that help bring the issues to light.

Will Hartford's Downtown North Development Benefit North-Enders?

"This is a development targeted towards a certain demographic of people."<br><em>Jamil Ragland</em>
Credit Mexognosis / Creative Commons
Creative Commons
Apartment buildings in the North End of Hartford.

Hartford is investing in a $350 million development in the North End of the city that will include housing, shopping, and a minor league baseball stadium, dubbed Downtown North. But will investment in Downtown North translate into economic prosperity to the rest of the North End?

Jamil Ragland doesn't think so. Speaking on WNPR’s Where We Live, Ragland said low-income families won’t benefit from the planned development. Businesses currently slated to be built there are targeted towards a wealthier demographic, he said.

“[I see] that this is a development targeted towards a certain demographic of people and I’m not convinced that demographic represents the actual demographic of the city. What gets lost in this conversation a lot is that there was actually a competing plan of that exact parcel where the stadium is going now,” Ragland said.

The plan before the stadium was announced included a grocery store targeted at moderate-income residents. Now, plans include a brewery, retail stores, and a supermarket. 

Credit Centerplan
A rendering of the Downtown North development in Hartford.

Ragland said he thinks the city is prioritizing attractions that will draw outside spenders over meeting the needs of the people currently living in the North End. 

"Are we really going to expect a Shop Rite to be placed next to a baseball stadium next to a craft brewery? Or are we going to get something along the lines of a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s, the types of things that don’t reflect what is needed in the community of people who don’t have access to resources to pay that kind of money for food?” Ragland said. 

The Hartford Business Journal reported that the developer for the site, DoNo LLC, "has gotten expressions of interest from several unidentified grocery operators," and is even considering running a grocery itself. The development agreement includes hiring preferences for Hartford residents and minority or women-owned businesses for contract work in building the stadium. 

Credit Centerplan
A rendering of Downtown North in Hartford.

Meanwhile, DoNo LLC is pursuing funding for subsidized housing in the Downtown North development. From the Hartford Business Journal report:

The yet-unnamed project would include 328 one- and two-bedroom apartments situated atop street-level retail space that would include a 62,430-square-foot supermarket, plus another 33,000 square feet of extra retail space, and a 705-space parking garage. Twenty percent, or about 65 units, would be earmarked "affordable'' and offer below-market rents; the rest would be priced to the market. ... DoNo assumes a monthly affordable rent of about $650 a month for the units, based on city residents' median income of $35,000 annually.

According to Thomas Deller, Hartford's director of development, finding funding for subsidization can be challenging.

"We are setting an internal planning goal that each neighborhood should have at least 20 percent of its housing affordable. So in Downtown, that's our goal. It is difficult to meet that because of the limitation of funding to bring in affordable housing," Deller said. 

And Ragland said that affordable housing isn’t always affordable for residents. He used the mixed-housing development at 777 Main Street as an example. He said that even with subsidies, rental fees in the complex are nearly $800 per month for a studio apartment.

“That may be below what’s going on with the other apartments in that development, but that hardly seems affordable for residents in a city that has been characterized as the second poorest city in the nation,” Ragland said.

Credit Chion Wolf / WNPR
Hartford Director of Development Thomas Deller in a WNPR file photo.

Deller said that the 777 Main Street complex may be less affordable for some families, because it is subsidized as “workforce” housing for families who have an income range of 80 to 100 percent of the average median income in the area.

“When people think of really affordable housing, they’re thinking of families that make 60 percent or less of the area median income and that takes a far-deeper subsidy to make those units available. There are not a lot of programs these days that help families do that,” Deller said.

The program that does subsidize housing for low-income residents, titled Section 8, has been criticized for giving voucher recipients enough money to live in lower-income neighborhoods, but not enough money to live anywhere else. 

According to Deller, 40 percent of the housing stock in Hartford is restricted to affordable housing in perpetuity. 

The Downtown North development broke ground on February 17.

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