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September 29, 2008

Dutch Point Condo Project To Draw Homeowners To City

The construction of 58 townhouse condominiums underway at the former Dutch Point housing project on Wyllys Street promises to boost Hartford’s homeownership rate, still among the lowest in the nation.

The condominiums, which vary in size from 1,008 to 1,964 square feet, will cost between $180,000 and $290,000.

They are part of a $73 million project launched in 2003 when the Hartford Housing Authority received a $20 million HOPE VI grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to overhaul the area located in the Sheldon-Charter Oak neighborhood immediately south of downtown.

During the past five years, 127 apartments have been built and leased. “The units are fully leased, the neighborhood is quiet and the people living there are working,” said Patricia Williams, HOPE VI director for the Hartford Housing Authority. “We’ve reached our goals of having residents from every spectrum.”

Williams added that the tenants come from all income levels and the makeup of the community includes families and single residents.


Cleaning Up

“The first thing we had to do was stabilize the area,” she said, adding that there are requirements for tenants to have employment and to undergo background checks. “It’s become a great place to live. It’s doing what we hoped so far and there is still more that can be done.”

Prior to the demolition of the former Dutch Point federally funded housing project, the neighborhood was considered unsafe and a haven for violent crime and drug dealing.

That’s changed, Williams said. “There has only been one major incident since the rental units opened,” she said. “We’re not looking for people that are perfect to live here, but people that are trying to work towards a quiet and quality life.”

From a development perspective, the entire look of Dutch Point has been changed dramatically from what was once 187 units of barracks-style housing, according to Peter Serafino, project manager for the site’s developer, The Community Builders.

“It was a little slow getting tenants at the beginning because people didn’t know what to expect,” Serafino said. “But the buildings are well managed and they are attractive. When we opened the second phase of the units, we were literally handing keys over the day we finished the buildings.”

The neighborhood has been transformed into a traditional urban landscape with three- and four-story buildings that are fronted onto two new streets.


Community Center

The Community Builders also constructed a 2,800-square-foot community center and a small park for residents.

“It’s such a change from what the buildings used to look like,” Serafino said. “It was lousy, but now, with the new street design and its proximity to downtown, it has lent itself to become a beautiful new neighborhood that is safe.”

The final phase of the project may prove tricky as the players involved work on not only building new condominiums but also attracting buyers in a tough economic market.

“The reality is that there’s nothing like this project, to have homes near Colt Park and within walking distance of downtown,” Serafino said. “We think that it will attract people because of the location. Obviously, I’m optimistic and hopeful, but I’m as curious as anyone to see what will happen.”

Maria Hagan, with Prudential Connecticut Realty, the broker for Dutch Point, said at least 20 prospective buyers have contacted her.

“We’ve had quite a few buyers express interest,” Hagan said. “It’s not overwhelming because buyers are a little slow to commit right now. There are attractive mortgage rates out there, so it’s a good time to buy.”

The consensus from those involved is that the condominiums will sell, based on early interest, but the full build-out may take longer than initially expected.

According to Williams, the original plan was for the housing build-out to take up to three years. That forecast has been modified to three to five years.

“It’s not an issue because they will be built in pods,” she said. “We won’t build all 58 and then try to sell them. That would not be responsible.”

Earlier this month, a groundbreaking ceremony was held to commemorate the end of the apartment phase and the beginning of the homeownership phase. Among those on hand were U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, and Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez.

“The Dutch Point revitalization is a great example of the possibilities that exist when public and private entities cooperate for the common good,” Larson said in a statement. “It is a great model for urban development throughout Connecticut and across the country.”

Perez’ Goals

Only 24.6 percent of Hartford residents own their own home, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. Hartford’s homeownership rates are in sharp contrast to the state’s average homeownership rate of 66.8 percent.

Although Hartford’s homeownership numbers have been rising — they are up 1,500 since 2002 — they fall short of Perez’ campaign goal of adding 500 new owner-occupied homes each year in the city.

Other funding sources for the project include the city of Hartford, the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, the Connecticut Light & Power Co. and Columbus, Ohio-based Red Capital Group.

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