CCNE in the News: Church Street South Tenants Organize

May 18, 2011 -- Louisa Abada


New Haven Independent

Church Street South Tenants Organize
by Allan Appel

Carbon monoxide from faulty furnaces drove Esther Martinez and Charleen Ortiz from their homes this winter. They have since returned home as leaders of a door-to-door organizing effort to give the 300 low-income families there a voice—and place to return to—when the Church Street South housing complex is rebuilt as a mixed-income development.

The private complex of 301 federally subsidized apartments across from Union Station is owned by Northland Investment Corporation of Boston.

Frequently referred to as “The Jungle” by local people and long a trouble spot for drug dealing and shootings, Church Street South is the target of a makeover into a mixed income development in a project launched by Northland, the city and the federal Housing and Urban Development Department.

According to preliminary plans based on a planning grant, Northland is expected to reconfigure the complex, with its attractive near-to-transit location, with only 100 affordable apartments.

What’s going to happen to the other 200 families currently residing at Church Street South?

That’s the question around which the women are organizing.

“I’d like to come back here,” said Ortiz. She added that most people they talk to feel the same way.

According to Ricardo Henriquez of the Connecticut Center for a New Economy (CCNE), who is helping in the effort, “One lady told us: I’ve lived here for 25 years under crappy conditions. Now that they’re building a new building, they want to throw me out.”