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Not Just Fixing the Paint: How Can Blight Remediation Catalyze Community Revitalization?

Abandoned, dilapidated buildings, littered streets and empty lots - blighted properties can be found in just about every city and town in Greater Hartford. Blight can have a devastating impact on local communities, depress the ability to attract homeowners and investors, threaten public health and public safety, and diminish neighborhood pride and community engagement. Fortunately, the effort to reduce or eliminate blight can also create new opportunities to revitalize neighborhoods, establish closer ties among neighbors and produce long-term positive results for the community.

This was the message nearly 100 attendees heard at The Lyceum in Hartford on June 20 during an event hosted by the Catalyst Endowment Fund of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. The event featured four presenters who engaged the group in a wide-ranging discussion on how Greater Hartford organizations and residents are working to remediate blight in neighborhoods.

The presenters included:

  • Andrea Pereira, Executive Director, Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC)
  • Frank Hagaman, Executive Director, Hartford Preservation Alliance
  • Patrick McMahon, President and CEO, Connecticut Main Street Center
  • Karraine Moody, Executive Director, Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity

Andrea Pereira offered a comprehensive overview of the causes, challenges and effective strategies to mitigate blight and create economic development opportunities. She discussed promising efforts currently underway in our area, including the recent establishment of a blight remediation department and the new Hartford Land Bank that will allow the City of Hartford to manage properties it acquires through foreclosure and attract investors to them. Pereira also discussed the region’s investment in several neighborhood-based community development organizations, which benefit from operating support provided by both the Hartford Foundation and the Hartford Neighborhood Development Support Collaborative (which is managed by LISC). These efforts are also benefitting from project loans, grants and the state’s expansion of historic tax credits. Pereira focused much of her presentation on the importance of collaboration and planning among organizations working on blight remediation; some of this work is supported by LISC and a new statewide Blight Remediation Coalition has been formed.

Frank Hagaman focused his presentation on the need to tie blight remediation in Hartford to historic preservation. Hartford boasts of hundreds of historic properties throughout the city, but many of these properties have fallen into disrepair. While tax credits are available to property owners who renovate historic buildings, many of these owners are unaware of these opportunities; Hagaman talked about the need to do more to get this information out to them. He also discussed the importance of collaborating with the City of Hartford and other organizations to make better use of existing resources. Hagaman presented a potential project to develop a survey of blighted historic properties and cross-reference this with a larger survey the City is considering to map blight in Hartford. This map could assist in developing more targeted remediation projects to specific neighborhoods with large numbers of historic properties.

Patrick McMahon talked about the fact that blight is not just an urban issue; many of the region’s rural and suburban towns are home to littered and rundown properties. McMahon offered several examples of blight remediation work in Suffield, Enfield and Windsor Locks. He discussed the recent launch of the Hartford Line train service between Springfield and New Haven that represents a major opportunity for transit-oriented development. McMahon shared how Windsor Locks is already working to restore a long-empty historic train station on Main Street and a major project launched by a Boston developer to convert an abandoned and blighted factory complex on the rail line into a $60 million apartment complex. He also showed how the construction of I-291 separated the Wilson section of Windsor, which led to its gradual decline. McMahon shared examples of how neighborhood residents and organizations were working together to clean up littered and neglected properties.

Karraine Moody shared the details behind Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity’s “A Brush with Kindness” initiative, which expands Habitat’s mission beyond solely new construction to include full house renovations and repairs.  The program helps fixed-income families repair and renovate their current homes, and focuses on assisting elderly, veterans and those with limited mobility to ensure they can remain in their neighborhoods. The organization also works with prospective homeowners, neighbors and community partners from planning through project completion. Like the other presenters, Moody emphasized the importance of working closely with municipal partners and neighborhood organizations. She reiterated how these efforts preserve affordable housing inventory for vulnerable residents also create stronger connections among neighbors.

After the formal presentations, all four speakers returned to the stage to field questions from the audience. As is often the case at Catalyst events, many of the attendees sought out effective strategies that could be supported through the Fund’s $50,000 grant opportunity. Several of the speakers discussed the need for funds to collect and share data on blighted properties using surveys and mapping. Other potential ideas related to developing outreach materials (such as videos) to educate and engage residents on local remediation needs and solicit volunteer support, especially among young people.

Staff from the Hartford Foundation will be working with Catalyst steering committee members to develop the Request for Proposals that will be sent out to area nonprofits this summer. The Catalyst Endowment Fund grantmaking meeting will be held on October 23, 2018 where all members will have the opportunity to hear short presentations from each agency, discuss the proposals and vote on the grant. Please contact Betty Ann Grady at bagrady@hfpg.org or 860-548-1888 with any questions about this program.

Upcoming Events Announced

Catalyst Steering Committee chair Kathleen Costello encouraged Catalyst members to attend a July 12 Joint Giving Circle event at the Hartford Foundation where members from all three of the Foundation’s giving circles have the opportunity to share and learn from one another, and discuss what they’re working on this year.

Catalyst Steering Committee vice chair McKinley Albert announced a unique volunteer opportunity for members to work on a local Habitat for Humanity project on September 14. In addition to the volunteer opportunity, Catalyst members will take part in a bus tour of completed Habitat projects, have lunch, and learn about the work Habitat is doing to revitalize our communities.

For more information, or to learn more about the Catalyst Fund, contact Betty Ann Grady at 860-548-1888.

Photos:

Live Doodle:

Constanza Segovia of Veo Veo Design drew this live doodle during the 6/20 Catalyst event, based on what was said during the panel discussion and Q&A. 

Catalyst-Live-Doodle-1500px.jpg

Click here to view larger image

 


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