MERIDEN — The demolition of Mills Memorial Apartments is inevitable, city officials have said, but Mayor Manny Santos is not on board with city and Meriden Housing Authority plans to relocate the 140 low-income housing units around downtown Meriden.
When demolishing public housing complexes, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requires a one-for-one replacement of all lost units. The housing authority “must offer each family displaced ... comparable housing that meets quality standards and is located in an area that is generally not less desirable than the location of the displaced persons.”
Officials have embarked on a plan to gain private development interest to help with the relocation of the Mills units while avoiding concentrating all of the units on the current Mills site. The city and housing authority have received a commitment from a private developer for a vacant, city-owned parcel at 24 Colony St. Twenty-five percent of the 63 apartments will be Mills replacement units with the rest considered affordable or market-rate housing. Other developers with previous affordable housing and low-income housing experience have since expressed interest in downtown Meriden.
At a City Council meeting this week, Santos said an increase in affordable or low-income housing downtown would not help businesses. He proposed his own solution for Mills relocation.
“Mills will be razed,” he said. “But we don’t need to replace units at the very area we are trying to revitalize, which is downtown. This city is big enough that we can relocate these individuals anywhere. We need to revitalize downtown and that means bringing in market value and high-end rental units down there and at the same time attract businesses and shops, which is necessary to continuously perpetuate an economic recovery. That’s what’s missing downtown.”
Santos expanded on his idea Wednesday, stating that “everyone is well aware there is plenty of vacant housing in Meriden.” Santos said the housing authority should purchase vacant properties, rehabilitate where necessary and use them as replacement housing for the Mills.
Whether that would be allowed is another question, according to City Manager Lawrence J. Kendzior.
“First of all, securing approval to dispose of an existing public housing property is not a simple or easy task,” Kendzior said. “You have to be able to show you’re going to provide something better than what you had and from the discussions we have had with HUD officials, they have strenuous objections to dispersing Mills residents in a wide geographic area. When we had public discussions about that in the past in various neighborhoods, it was clear people in the neighborhoods did not want that and HUD indicated they would not approve of that.”
City Councilor Brian Daniels agreed with Kendzior. Daniels chairs the city and housing authority’s joint planning group, which is overseeing the Mills project.
“HUD has said there are restrictions about how far you can move relocation units from where they are now,” Daniels said. “This is another example of the mayor making statements on topics where he hasn’t done his homework.”
Kendzior said that, while there might be a “bad perception” of affordable housing, these would be attractive housing units with one or two bedrooms marketed toward the 25-to-35 age range.
“All across the country, there are developments like that,” Kendzior said. “It’s attractive to that demographic.”
But Santos said a married couple with a household income of $50,000 and one child would also qualify to live there, and residents in that income range would not have the means to “sustain the businesses we are hoping for in our downtown.” He made those statements in the comments section of the Record-Journal website.
Santos added that it is important to attract residents with disposable incomes and that the only reason private investors are interested in developing in downtown was because affordable housing often involves securing public funding.
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