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Greene Homes tear down, rebuild could take years

December 8, 2018 GMT

BRIDGEPORT — Richard Pezzella has lived in the Charles F. Greene Homes for six years and is vice president of the low-income public housing development’s residents’ board.

He had heard rumors that owner Park City Communities — formerly the Bridgeport Housing Authority — was considering tearing down the seven-story, 270-unit complex, which has been plagued by crime and infrastructure woes.

“But when I went to the (management) office to find out if anything was going on they said ‘no’,” Pezzella said.

According to meeting minutes for Park City Communities’ mayoral-appointed board, as of Nov. 13, planning was under way for roof replacement at Greene Homes next summer.

Then on Nov. 30 came the sudden announcement by local housing officials and the mayor’s office that they planned to ask the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for permission to demolish what locals call “The Greenes.”

Pezzella said he and other residents have obvious questions — how soon will the tear-down happen, and where will they move to?

“It’s easy to say they’re going to knock down buildings,” Pezzella said. “It’s easier said than done.”

Consider the slow ongoing effort at Park City Communities’ Marina Village in the South End to knock down and replace the aged buildings in phases while relocating existing tenants. Six years ago, then-Mayor Bill Finch’s administration pledged to move forward on that project, and the second phase of demolition finally began late summer 2018.

Cowlis Andrews, chairman of Park City’s mayoral-appointed board, admitted in an interview this week that when it comes to dismantling Greene Homes, “We’re talking a couple years.”

“This is gonna take a while,” agreed Councilman Alfredo Castillo, whose district includes Greene Homes and who is the council’s liaison with the Park City Communities. “It’s a process. But we’re saying we can’t have these people living like this.”

Some wonder if city housing officials and City Hall are taking on too much.

“How they gonna move people from Greene when they ain’t finished with Marina (Village)?” said Bettie Cook, president of Park City Communities’ resident advisory council. “I mean c’mon.

“The Greenes got close to 300 or more people over there,” she said. “Where you going to put them?”

Pezzella said the number of tenants is closer to 400.

Even City Council President Aidee Nieves, though supportive of Ganim’s “big idea” to improve the quality of life for Greene Homes residents, said she is concerned about doing it right while at the same time completing Marina Village.

“We can talk about moving people, but moving people into good apartments, good places, is another question,” Nieves said.

Breaking point

The city and Park City Communities are seeking proposals from qualified firms to help with the HUD application to raze Greene Homes. Responses had been due Thursday, but that deadline was extended until this coming Wednesday.

“The plan is to get a plan,” Andrews said. “To get permission from HUD to begin the process for demolition (and) relocation. The plan is to identify housing options for folks. To meet with tenants and their representatives and to move forward. I don’t know the plan, exactly. We’re going to rely on the professionals in our office. ... But we’re giving folks a heads-up this is coming.”

According to HUD guidelines, public housing authorities can seek to tear down a limited number of properties if those developments are “obsolete” and “unsuitable for housing” and “no reasonable program of modifications is cost-effective.”

Andrews said Greene Homes is at that point, from constantly broken down elevators to hygiene issues like people urinating and defecating in hallways — sometimes right in front of maintenance workers.

“We probably put a little bit more than $2 million into the Greenes over the last few years,” Andrews said. “It doesn’t look like we put $5 into it.”

Then there was the brutal October 2017 murder of 18-year-old Jeri Kollock, who was forced to strip naked, then was robbed and shot seven times inside Greene Home, dying some 45 minutes later.

Andrews said Kollock’s death was a breaking point for him: “That kid — I have a son that same age. My son is in college. And it broke my heart, really. ... It’s like, wow. It just tears at you.”

Andrews said maybe about two or three months ago he and Ganim first spoke about demolishing Greene Homes.

“We saw each other in passing. He said, ‘We’ve got to do something about it.’ I said, ‘I’m willing to take it down,’” Andrews recalled. “Sometimes you have to take things down to bring it back to get it right.”

And, Andrews added, perhaps only a few of Greene Homes’ five buildings need to come down. HUD regulations state that partial demolitions are allowed if it “will ensure the viability of the remaining portion of the development.”

“To be frank, half the problems go away once we get rid of one or two buildings,” Andrews said.

Not in Bridgeport

Andrews said he would like to follow the Marina Village model and that of another former housing site — Father Panik Village. In both cases, the city and Park City Communities partnered with a private developer who is building mixed-income housing with various funding sources, including some government subsidies.

“Those are the new formulas out there now,” said Steven Nelson, another member of Park City’s board. “HUD doesn’t really have the money to come in and fix the place (Greene Homes) the way it needs to be fixed for decent living for people.”

Father Panik Village, which the New York Times once wrote had become “a national symbol of both urban decay and the failure of large public housing complexes,” was torn down in the early 1990s during Ganim’s first administration. He was re-elected in 2015.

But it was only four years ago under Finch that a public/private deal was struck to build the new Crescent Crossings mixed-income complex on the former Father Panik grounds. Crescent Crossings broke ground in late 2015.

“I’m hoping we’re not just talking about doing something (at Greene Homes), tearing it down and leaving the place sitting there for 20 freakin’ years,” Nelson said.

Alice King is president of Greene Homes’ residents’ board. She and Pezzella blamed many of the problems at the complex on outsiders.

“The majority of the people that live here are good people,” King said. “It’s only the outsiders that come and do bad things here.”

King agreed the buildings need a lot of work. But, she said, the violence is more under control — at least during the winter.

“We don’t see as much,” she said. “We hear gunshots at night or sometimes during the day.”

“Bridgeport is part of Fairfield County and that type of housing is not acceptable anywhere else in Fairfield County,” Andrews said. “And it shouldn’t be acceptable in Bridgeport.”