By LINDSAY CAREY
A non-profit organization has built and opened a three story apartment building for elderly low-income renters in Southington. On Wednesday, April 11, NeighborWorks New Horizons (NWNH) hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony for the 40-unit facility, called “Winter Grove,” located on Darling Street in Southington.
Executive Director of NWNH Seila Mosquera served as the master of ceremonies for the event and welcomed guest speakers U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Field Office Director Suzanne Piacentini, U.S. Congressman John B. Larson, and more.
“Having worked with this property since it started, I share your pride and excitement about the Winter Grove project,” Piacentini said at the ceremony. “This is our first 202 in Southington and sadly the last 202 building in the state under the current program.
The 1.37 acre site was a Section 202 housing project, which is a program funded by the HUD to provide affordable and supportive housing for the elderly.
“We are proud to have contributed $6.8 million to construct this building in order for these units to remain affordable,” said Piacentini. “These projects are not easy. It takes a combination of multiple funding sources, many, many years and many late hours.”
Not only did NWNH receive funding from HUD for the construction of the 35,000 square foot facility, they also received funding from the State Department of Housing and the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority HTCC Program.
NWNH is a familiar partner with the State Department of Housing, because it currently operates and manages more than 475 housing units throughout Connecticut, according to a press release.
“I know taking this project from where it was to where we are today has sort of been an interesting process, congratulations on work well done,” said State of Connecticut Department of Housing Commissioner Evonne Klein at the ceremony.
Klein credited Governor Dannel Malloy’s administration with making affordable housing a priority in the state’s funding.
“It is an honor and a privilege to serve under Governor Malloy,” said Klein. “He’s a governor who understands what an important place this is and the kind of commitment it takes to build affordable houses today.”
The state housing commissioner expressed the need for affordable housing for the elderly in Southington by sharing the statistic that 12 percent of Connecticut’s population is over 65, but Southington’s senior citizen population is twice the state rate (24 percent).
“I like to say that today in Connecticut we’re on the right path to building a Connecticut where everyone has a place to call home,” said Klein. “Often times when I attend these events and I see the end product and I look out into the audience to see the folks who are going to be living here it’s such a great feeling,”
New Winter Grove resident Lorraine Burkhart shared her appreciation for the facility, which she says will be offering her a new start. Burkhart is a veteran widow who wanted to stay in Southington to be close to her daughter.
“Finding housing to support my needs as an elderly person has been challenging,” said Burkhart. “The Winter Grove property has met those needs residing in the town of Southington, and being less than a mile away from my daughter and having access to all of Southington is what I’ve been searching for.”
She shared her excitement about the apartment building’s central location with easy access to stores on Queen Street and Main Street.
“I want to thank everyone that worked so hard to make this a possibility;” said Burkart. “I’m excited to start the next chapter of my life.”
The apartment building’s amenities include laundry areas, lounges, a craft room, community room, and tenant storage. It also has outdoor seating, a drop-off area and a 50 vehicle parking lot.
These apartments serve low income renters who are aged 62 and older. The elderly renters will pay no more than 30 percent of their income for rent and utilities, according to a NWNH press release.
The maximum income this housing development supports for renters is 50 percent of Area Median Gross income or $34,000.
In addition to finding funding, NWNH faced some preliminary problems with the Winter Grove project. NWNH Board of Directors President Ed Seibert said that they were originally going to use the existing building on the Darling Street property, however there were some problems and it had to be torn down.
“This project took longer to come to fruition, because of some preliminary problems, but once we got it cleared and were ready to go it went very quickly,” said Seibert.
With a large elderly population in Southington, Seibert said he expects the Winter Grove project to be the first of many NWNH housing developments in town.
“We’re very happy to be able to do this in Southington. It’s our first project in Southington, and we’re looking forward to doing more,” said Seibert. “There’s a huge need for affordable housing in this town, especially.”
The NWNH board of directors president said both state and town administrators have been very supportive of this project.
“I think a great deal of our success is due to the fact that we do what the towns want,” said Seibert. “That makes for a working partnership with the community as well as with the federal government, the state government, and then with private enterprise.”
Seibert said this project allowed for public, private, non-profit, and for profit organizations to come together with one goal: to provide affordable housing.
“This is 40 units, which looks like a small number but it’s 40 units that didn’t exist before. Having these now, we’re helping with the problem, but there’s a lot more to go throughout Connecticut,” said Seibert. “We want to keep going as long as there’s funding for us and, as long as there’s government support, we’ll never stop.”
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and Congressman Larson have been supportive of this project since the beginning.
“I’ve always felt that having decent, clean, safe, and affordable housing is a basic human right,” said Seibert. “You have to start with housing. If you can get that done, then people can live and enjoy their lives.”
Town Attorney Mark Sciota and Town Council Vice Chairman Cheryl Lounsbury attended the ceremony. Sciota welcomed NWNH to Southington and thanked them for getting involved with the Darling Street site.
“I go to a lot of these [ribbon cutting ceremonies], but this one is very dear to my heart,” said Sciota. “I’ve been involved in this site since 1999.”
The town attorney also publicly thanked the town government involved with the project, including the economic development team, the engineering department, and the public works committee.
“We have a very large senior population, and our goal is to keep them here,” said Sciota. “To keep them close to their family, we’re looking for more projects like [NWNH] to come to Southington.”