The Heights affordable housing project complete

Residents and public officials celebrated the ribbon-cutting ceremony of The Heights, the affordable housing community in Darien, on July 1.

"I think people looked at The Heights and realized that affordable housing is just housing, and it looks like and lives like any other housing," Darien Housing Authority Commissioner Jan Raymond said.

The Heights, at 24 Allen O'Neill Drive, the site of the former Allen-O'Neill apartments, include 106 apartments in 23 buildings that are either one-, two- or three-bedroom. Construction on the $28 million project started in July 2012.

All of the homes at The Heights are occupied and a majority of the former Allen-O'Neill residents returned.

The site was the original location of the Fitch Home for Soldiers and Their Orphans, which was built in 1864. The veterans' home has moved to Rocky Hill since the Fitch Home was moved to where the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6933 now stands on West Avenue.

"The housing that was built for remaining veterans from World War II was never meant to still be here in 2014," Raymond said.

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U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said that he believes if an unknowing person was told The Heights was an affordable-housing complex, they wouldn't believe it because of the "stereotypes and stigmas" associated with affordable housing.

"These homes are gracious, welcoming, beautiful and have a really transformational effect on that neighborhood because they are very much homes that accommodate families of diverse economic backgrounds and really contribute to the life of the entire community," Blumenthal said.

The first time Blumenthal visited the residents of the former Allen-O'Neill homes, he was "struck by how run-down they were and how unworthy" the homes were for the residents who occupied them.

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said the quality of the project "has gone a long way to help us dispel the stigma (of affordable housing.)"

"I think what people remember is affordable housing from 50 and 60 years ago that was poor quality and poor design and that's not the case today," said former First Selectman and current Department of Housing commissioner Evonne Klein.

Stevenson said the best part of Tuesday's ribbon-cutting ceremony was the residents' attendance.

"What I loved about the day was seeing the residents there and seeing how happy they were," Stevenson said.

State Rep. Terrie Wood, R-141, said the homes were a "beautiful and great use of the land and the space."

Raymond said when she joined the Housing Authority one of her goals was to see a development built that caught the eyes of potential home buyers driving by The Heights. She received a call from a Greenwich realtor who said a client had shown interest while driving to a different house.

"I think we accomplished our goal of building a community that the community approves of," Raymond said.

Klein noted that affordable housing is important for the residents of Connecticut.

"When you're paying the appropriate amount of rent, it opens your life up to a lot of things, you can afford food, you can afford discretionary spending," she said. "When we're building houses near jobs, near transportation, you can think of the economic benefit of it. When you're paying your rent or your house payment that you can afford, your life is so much better."; 203-330-6583;@Meg_DarienNews