The green ribbon was small, and so were the scissors, but the crowd that gathered at Armstrong Court to celebrate Phase II of renovations to the 1950’s era housing development was substantial.
On Saturday, leaders from Greenwich Communities, formerly known as the Housing Authority of Greenwich, included director Anthony Johnson and board chair Sam Romeo, who welcomed about 100 people to the ribbon cutting.
Greenwich Communities operations are entirely self-sufficient. The Town provides no financial support.
Among the dignitaries was US Congressman Jim Himes, who got his start in public service as a commissioner on the Greenwich Housing Authority board.
Outside newly renovated building 1, Mr. Romeo said there were great plans for adding affordable housing in Greenwich, notwithstanding the high cost of land in town.
“On Aug 20 we’ll be putting shovels in the ground and starting the rest of these buildings,” he said. “Moving forward after Armstrong Court, we have enough property we already own to put another 300 units into our housing inventory.”
Specifically he noted that the proposed Vinci Gardens, with 52 units of elderly housing at McKinney Terrace, was working its way through the Planning and Zoning process.
Greenwich Communities director Anthony Johnson thanked the residents of Armstrong Court for their patience living through construction.
“Everyone who ends up with the need for housing is not there because they don’t want to work hard,” he said. “It’s because life has thrown them a curve, and society is there to help them.”
Pointing to one of the original buildings, yet to be renovated, Mr. Johnson said in winter the building looked “red hot” through a thermal imaging camera.
“All the heat from the inside of the building comes to the outside of the building, so you lose all that energy,” he said.
Mr. Johnson went on to say that eliminating the cat walks originally constructed as emergency exits added significant space to renovated units.
“Also, the energy efficiency of the units and the sound quality has transformed the property,” he said.
The new up-to-code units include modern alarm and sprinkler systems that the 50s era construction lacked.
“It’s a sprinkled, fire-proof building,” he said.
Mr. Johnson welcomed Seila Mosquera-Bruno, who is the commissioner of Connecticut’s Dept of Housing. She also serves as board chair of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA). He also introduced Kelly McDermott, who is Deputy Managing Director in the Multifamily Division for CHFA, and Alanna Kabel, Community Planning and Development Director for HUD in Hartford.
He said the state and federal government both played a part in making the development of affordable housing possible in Greenwich.
“When you’re financing an affordable housing project, you don’t just (go to) a bank and say I want to to do this building and it’s going to cost $30 million,” he said. “It’s multi-layered financing from the top to the bottom, and you still end up with a gap…But we are able to do it with state financing that has been great from DOH and CHFA.”
Also, he said Section 8 vouchers from US Dept of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) supplemented rents.
“We’re able to charge a little more rent to the federal government, but the tenant’s rent doesn’t change,” Johnson said. “But that difference and that delta adds to our ability to carry more debt on the buildings. We have to thank HUD for allowing us to do that – it doesn’t cover every unit, it’s a limited amount of units – but that helps us finance construction.”
Greenwich First Selectman Fred Camillo pointed to an apartment in the renovated building 1 that was once home to his grandmother, Rose Camillo.
“I spent lots of nights over there and the meatballs that were made there rivaled Rao’s.”
“We are leading the way,” Camillo continued. “We’re showing that solutions are best made by those who live in those towns.”
Congressman Himes thanked Mr. Johnson and Mr. Romeo for their leadership.
“This is so gratifying for me, for a bunch of reasons. One, my start in this crazy business came from being a commissioner at the housing authority and I saw up close and personal the remarkable work that the commissioners do.”
“Dealing with HUD and CHFA, and all the requirements, and all the ins and outs of the financing is really hard and they don’t get nearly enough appreciation,” Himes added.
Himes said Greenwich Communities properties including Armstrong Court, Wilbur Peck and McKinney Terrace makes it possible for people to live in the high-cost town of Greenwich and send their children to Greenwich Schools, including Greenwich High School.
“The effort made, and all the complexity, allows those families to be really be important members of this vibrant community,” he added.
“We’re showing right here in Greenwich, Connecticut, that if you involve the community, do this collaboratively and get federal, state and municipal governments together – because this project has all three levels of support – you get Democrats and Republicans together you can do really wonderful things,” Himes said.
Seila Mosquera-Bruno, the commissioner of Connecticut’s Dept of Housing, who also serves as board chair of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority (CHFA), said in her roles she has supported Greenwich Communities.
“It takes a long time. It takes a lot of people. It takes a lot of effort to put one of these things together,” Mosquera-Bruno said, adding that the DOH had put about $5 million into the project.
“My initial thing I did when I came into this position was to try to make sure that projects that had faces could continue on instead of stalling, and wait for another year, and apply, and wait for another year,” she said. “We try to be easier, every day.”
“The Governor’s commitment is to make sure that all residents in the state have the opportunity to live in a decent, safe, healthy, energy-efficient place,” Mosquera-Bruno said. “That’s his commitment.”
She said in about 2-1/2 years, and through the pandemic, construction of housing never stopped.
“We have done about 14,000 units with CHFA and the DOH. That’s about $600 million in bonds from the state and over $3 billion in economic construction activity,” she said. “The Governor really cares. He just told us, ‘Go ahead and do it. Don’t stop,’ and that’s what we’re doing.”
Ms McDermott from CHFA, said the project involved over 11 different sources of funding.
“Think about how complicated that is to get 11 different people around the table together to put in some financing for this,” she said.
Phase II is a $27 million project to renovate 42 housing units in buildings no. 1, 3 and 6. The one and two-bedroom apartments have been renovated into three-bedroom units with new kitchens and appliances, and other improvements.
Recently completed units in building 1 are immaculate and spacious.
Some on the upper floors even benefit from priceless Long Island Sound views.
The 144-unit Armstrong Court redevelopment project consists of four phases. Phase I of the project began in May 2019 and was completed in June 2020, with 18 newly constructed townhouses. Construction on Phase III, a single building consisting of 42 units, will start in August 2022. Phase IV currently has not been financed.