Tuesday night marked the first meeting of the Redevelopment Agency under new chairperson Shannon Brown. At the last meeting, Gerry Daley stepped down as chair after many years.
Tonight's meeting offered news of some progress for the North End Home Ownership project, and a split vote on a proposal for the Miller/Bridge Street neighborhood.
The meeting began with an update from Nehemiah Housing's Michael Taylor and Broad Park Development's David Berto. Their project to provide 17 home-ownership units in the Ferry/Green/Rapallo neighborhood has made slow progress over the past few years, but tonight we learned of a new funding source for the project. Michael and David were joined by Andrea Pereira from the Local Initiatives Support Corp. LISC was an early supporter of the project, with a loan to assist with acquisition and development. Now, as members of Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) they have helped secure a $425,000 "forgivable loan" for the project. That means that after five years, the loan is forgiven and essentially becomes a grant.
Nehemiah is still on the waiting list for funding from the Federal Home Loan Bank's Affordable Housing Program, but may be eligible for funding as early as next month. The all-important appraisal of what these homes might sell for is expected by the end of March, which has the potential to unlock both a construction loan from Liberty Bank and millions in HOME funds from the state's Department of Economic Development. If all those pieces fall into place, assembling the approximately $7 million necessary for the project, then Nehemiah could begin abatement and demolition of the properties in question as soon as this May. If that timeline holds, the proposed homes would be sold and occupied by Thanksgiving 2010. For more background on the North End Home Ownership Project, the Planning department has all the drawings on its excellent webpage.
In other business, Redevelopment heard a proposal from Planning Director Bill Warner to purchase and demolish a blighted building on Bridge Street. The proposal generated much debate, including that from yours truly who would rather see Middletown work a little harder to find alternate uses for historic houses -- this one was built in 1865. The proposal did pass, with five commissioners in favor, four against, and two abstensions for unknown reasons. Now the proposal moves to the Common Council for their consideration and funding.
The discussion on Miller and Bridge street made it clear that Middletown is no closer to solving the terrible access problem for this neighborhood. The City cannot afford to purchase and demolish all the homes, nor can it afford to connect the neighborhood with a new road to North Main Street. A bill has been proposed to the state by our legislators for $3 million to solve this problem. The much less costly and much quicker option of negotiating the opening of the Portland Street railroad crossing is apparently off the table. And so the residents of Miller and Bridge are not likely to see changes any time soon, except perhaps the removal of one vacant, historic house.