Old Town Hall Houses redevelopment halted by state funding issues

A sketch of the new OTHH design by CrossKey Architects

Connecticut’s state budget crisis has halted progress on the redevelopment of Darien’s senior affordable housing community, Old Town Hall Houses. During a briefing with the Board of Selectmen on Monday, Darien Housing Authority Chairman Joe Warren said the project is awaiting a response to its application for public funding, which was submitted in June.

The state government operated for more than 120 days without a budget before approving a two-year, $41 million budget on Oct. 31. However, while funding is now in place for public initiatives like affordable housing, the state is facing a backlog of applications as it begins disbursing grants.

Prior to the state’s extended budgetless period, the Darien Housing Authority had hoped to begin the process of relocating the senior residents of Old Town Hall Houses and demolishing the existing complex by the end of this year. The housing authority’s duty is to provide and maintain affordable housing in Darien, overseeing The Heights at Allen O’Neill Drive and OTHH. But without no word from the state, both the OTHH residents and the DHA have been left without a timeline for action.

“We’re frustrated right now, to be very honest with you,” Warren said. “We are in a hole, a hole not of our making. The Old Town Hall Houses project is well underway we have all the local approvals, everything’s ready to go. But we do not have any funding, the funding has been delayed due to the budget problems the state has had.”

Originally built in 1988, the current OTHH complex has 30 affordable units spread across six buildings. Darien’s Planning & Zoning Commission approved a site plan in July 2016 for the DHA and partner developer the JHM Group to tear down the existing buildings at OTHH and construct a single three-story building with a total of 55 affordable units for seniors. The project is estimated to cost about $22 million, with funding coming from a mix of public grants and tax credits as well as private investment.

On Monday Warren said the project’s private funding is all in place but the state’s slow response has left the project stuck in place.

“Until the state gets everything back in order again and begins to allocate the funding for these types of projects, we have know way of knowing where we will sit in the order of funding and how much funding we can expect to get,” Warren said.

While the project awaits state funding the DHA has stopped accepting new residents at the facility, due to the expected cost of relocation. The DHA is responsible for relocating more than 20 tenants for the duration of the construction process and has been discussing the impending move with senior residents for at least two years. Warren said the DHA will hire outside consultants to help plan the move with the seniors but it is not yet known where they will land.

Representatives for the DHA have said that the move to a single building with modern amenities will benefit OTHH’s tenants. The new building will be outfitted with elevators and handicap accessible entrances; many units at the current facility were only accessible by stairway. Seniors at the existing facility must also travel outdoors to reach laundry machines, mailboxes and community spaces, creating a potential danger during winter months. Still, some residents have protested the move due to concerns about the looming relocation.

“Once we get a definitive timeline for this, we will be able to set in motion the necessary steps to secure housing for all of our residents,” Warren said.

The Board of Selectmen asked Warren, who was named acting chairman of the DHA following the resignation of Jan Raymond in September, to return when the DHA receives new information regarding their application with the state. Warren said on Monday that he expected to formally be voted chair of the DHA on Tuesday night, and was reappointed to the housing authority for a term lasting through June 2021.