Stamford, Conn.—Private developers, city officials, police officers, and neighbors all came together to help turn Southfield Village, a troubled public housing project, into the new mixed-income neighborhood called Southwood Square.
The 20-acre project used to be locally famous as a drive-through supermarket for illegal drugs. To stop the flow of dealers and customers, the Stamford police blocked the main entrance with huge concrete blocks.
But crime has almost vanished, thanks in part to strong property management and the care with which the developers, Boston-based Beacon/Corcoran Jennison Partners, LLC, and the city reached out to the existing residents: In the last six years, not a single car or apartment has been broken into.
“Suddenly I’m not thinking it’s a project,” said Blondyne Mikel, president of Southwood’s resident association. “I’m thinking it’s a community.”
In December 2006, workers will finish a new neighborhood of townhouses and mid-rise apartment buildings, complete with backyards, a community swimming pool, and a fitness center.
The $102.6 million redevelopment began in October 1997 with a $26.4 million HOPE VI grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The developers also raised $43 million from the sale of 9 percent low-income house tax credits. The development needed so many tax credits that the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA) had to split the reservation into three pieces over six years. The project also received $14.4 million in permanent financing from CHFA.
“The change here is amazing,” said Jim Comstock, a community police officer with the Stamford Police Department who was assigned to the property near the beginning of the HOPE VI redevelopment. As part of these community policing efforts, Comstock and his partners are involved in a range of activities unusual for cops, including resident job training programs, a basketball team, and even music lessons. “We try to break down that barriers," he said. "That blue wall.”
This strategy succeeded, according to Mikel of the residents’ association. “People were making phone calls to the police,” she said. “They were doing things that you never used to see before.”
The developers also worked to make sure that public housing residents who wanted to return would have a place to live in the new Southwood. Stamford is the third most expensive rental housing market in the country, and the waiting list to get into public housing is so long that the housing authority has stopped taking new names.
When HUD announced the HOPE VI grant, there were 246 units of public housing at Southwood. Of the households that lived in those apartments, 170 are still here almost nine years later. These residents were included in every stage of the development process, with monthly and even weekly meetings with the developers.
The redeveloped Southwood has 230 units of rental housing that are affordable to tenants earning up to 60 percent of the area median income. That includes 160 units of public housing and 70 apartments subsidized by low-income housing tax credits.
Another 85 marret-rate rental apartments are spread evenly throughout the community. These apartments are fully occupied and renting for 5 percent more than the development’s pro forma estimates. Two apartments should come on the market this fall, renting for $1,400 for a one-bedroom apartment and $1,750 for a two-bedroom. Southwood also includes 15 for-sale townhouses, which should be finished this December.
Since the first new apartments opened, property values have more than doubled in the area immediately around Southwood, with new commercial developments, including restaurants, rental car stores, and a Subaru car dealership, springing up.