The Haven, needles and a neighborhood
Perhaps someday we will have a shopping mall called The Haven. The developer will take down the homes and bury the empty bottles and hypodermic needles that now cover the vacant site. But we will always remember what was given up, under the guise of a promise of economic development that was built on a premise that economic development has to be a zero-sum game.
We could have had economic development without forcing people out of their homes and small businesses under the threat that their property would be taken by force under Eminent Domain. We could have built upon what we had by using the vacant lots that the city already owned, instead of destroying the good parts of the area under the mistaken assumption that the homes weren’t good enough and had to be annihilated. Many people in West Haven will say that the displaced homeowners ‘made out like bandits’, ‘ran to the bank’ with their supposed windfalls, or ‘couldn’t wait to run to the table’…and perhaps that characterization did pertain to a small number of absentee owners. But for the majority of people who lived in the non-blighted family homes or ran the numerous small businesses that populated the area, this was not the case. They wanted to retain their homes and neighborhood.
This case is a sad lesson in the domino effect, and how the fragile balance that makes a neighborhood viable and vibrant isn’t just based on economic factors. The homes that were once occupied in the area bounded by First Avenue and Water Street, Main and Elm Streets were critical to the integrity of a wider neighborhood — one that is now profoundly destabilized because of what happened next door.
The City of West Haven has done a great disservice not only to the homeowners who were vacated, but also-and perhaps more so-to the homeowners who remain on the fringes of this project footprint. They cannot refinance their mortgages. They cannot take equity out of their homes. But still they hang on, because they really have no choice.
The approval of The Haven South Municipal Development Plan by the West Haven Redevelopment Agency, the West Haven Planning and Zoning Commission, and the West Haven City Council in 2015 wreaked havoc in a large swath of West Haven.
Over a year ago, then-Councilman Aaron Charney proposed a citywide ordinance to prohibit the use of Eminent Domain when the purpose is to convey certain private property to another private party for an economic development project. This ordinance was never acted upon by City Council, and it died when the last council session ended.
Such an ordinance will prevent a repeat of The Haven and will give some protection to those homeowners north of Elm Street, which was to have been the target neighborhood for Haven Phase II.
I urge the new City Council to resurrect this ordinance or to develop a new one and to act on it.
Thank you for your help
Growing up in West Haven I was always acutely aware of the Veteran population that sought help and housing with us here. They were a segment of the population about whom not much was known back then but they made a mark on the psyche of many of us who grew up here. And they left many of us with questions…
Upon my retirement I moved out of town to another city to be closer to my family, but I missed the energy of West Haven and the many friends I’d made over the years. When retirement didn’t agree with me, I decided to see if I could get involved with those Veterans who had made such of an impression on me while trying to find the answers to those long- ago questions. I was fortunate enough to be hired by a non-profit, the Veterans Support Foundation, which provides transitional housing for homeless Vets. While I learned that there were many federal programs for Veterans, I also saw holes in the services provided and wondered how they were filled. What I learned about, most importantly, was that those holes were filled by the is the kindness and generosity of the people of West Haven and the strength of purpose exhibited by the West Haven Chamber of Commerce. The Board of Directors of the Chamber, supported by local businesses and a caring population seeks to fill the need of people who are struggling to get by. This year, 2019, the focus was on our Veterans. When the non-profit for which I work came up two Thanksgiving dinners short for the holiday, the word was put out and two complete dinners magically appeared for the two apartments that had none. Recently, the Chamber held a luncheon so that they could provide gift cards and much needed necessities and gifts for the Christmas holidays.
So the answers to my question of who fills up the gaps in services that are inevitable in caring for a population this large is, in West Haven, the caring community in which the Veterans live. So to the organizers of this effort, Teddi, Patty, and Alan and all the rest of the generous individuals who came forward, thank you from the bottom of our collective heart. The Veterans at all the houses in West Haven certainly know that Christmas angels are among us.
May the peace of the season be with us all…
Veterans Support Foundation