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January 11, 2016 Deal Watch

With extra funds, urban-renewal oasis' facelift on track

PHOTO | Contributed The “after” vista of several units of Stonington Acres, a low-to-moderate income and senior-housing
PHOTO | Contributed The “before'' vista of several units of Stonington Acres, a low-to-moderate income and senior-housing community in Hartford's South End.

One of Hartford's oldest affordable apartment communities, erected in the early '60s to house city residents displaced by downtown urban renewal, is entering the second phase of its year-long, $12.3 million redevelopment.

Formerly Twin Acres, the renamed Stonington Acres is a 40-unit, low- and moderate-income and senior-housing complex at 134-186 Stonington St. On Dec. 15, a six-month renovation was completed on the first 29 units, whose occupants — temporarily relocated during construction — began moving back just before Christmas and were all in place by New Year's Eve, according to Emily Wolfe, deputy director for nonprofit owner/developer Sheldon Oak Central Inc.

All pre-existing apartments have, or will, renovated kitchens and bathrooms; upgraded insulation; and energy-efficient heating systems. Several two-story units got new third floors, plus five new non-income restricted living units are incorporated into the redesign. Pre-leasing of those five units is underway, Wolfe said via email.

Monthly rents for the two-bedroom units tied to residents' incomes range from $825 to $1,022; three-bedrooms from $949 to $1,167. The five unrestricted-income units rent at the high end of the range.  

In addition, to give the entire complex more “curb appeal,'' and to blend better with adjacent housing, including the redesigned Dutch Point residences and The Corporation for Independent Living's Popieluszko Court townhomes under construction, parking was redesigned and landscaping and grounds were enhanced.

However, some of those enhancements almost did not happen but for some last-minute financial support from regional electricity provider Eversource, formerly Connecticut Light & Power/Northeast Utilities, Wolfe said.

Despite private and public funding sources in hand, Sheldon Oak Central encountered unexpected headwinds when it belatedly discovered that its year-earlier labor- and materials-costs estimates had ballooned. Moreover, extra environmental testing uncovered more hazardous materials that required abatement, Wolfe said.

The nonprofit landlord, too, was burdened with the cost of relocating residents into temporary housing and back, and footing the rent difference between their existing and temporary locales.

In response, she said, Sheldon Oak Central trimmed Stonington's redevelopment budget, eliminating some items from the parking, landscaping and paving budgets, as well as omitting some architectural features, such as columned porticos.

“Eversource's funds were crucial,'' she said, “because the actual costs of construction in 2015 were considerably higher than the estimates we prepared when we applied for funding over a year before, an overage of nearly 40 percent.”

Stonington Acres isn't Eversource's first financing of affordable housing in the state, spokesman Mitch Gross said.

“We are committed to supporting communities and Stonington Acres is another example of how the development of affordable housing for at-risk populations helps to maintain the fabric of Connecticut's cities and towns,” Gross said via email. “… We are pleased to play a part in this effort.”

With Eversource's December purchase of the tax credits, the landlord was able to restore nearly all the previously omitted upgrades/features, Wolfe said.

Meriden's Carabetta Brothers Inc. is general contractor; Farmington's Schadler Selnau Associates is architect.

Work on the other 11 units is underway, with completion set for spring. Occupants of those units will return as work is finished.

According to Wolfe, TD Bank provided a $4.9 million construction loan, with the city contributing another $700,000.

That construction funding will ultimately be replaced by a permanent financing package consisting of a state Housing Department loan of $3.2 million; sale of $8.2 million of federal low-income housing tax credits; Eversource's $499,266 state tax-credit contribution; and a $300,000 loan from the city.

Gregory Seay is the Hartford Business Journal News Editor.

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