Old Town Hall Homes approved for state funding, senior residents await relocation

As the Darien Housing Authority continues working to redevelop and expand the Old Town Hall Homes, the elder residents of the senior affordable housing complex have been preparing for relocation for about two years. But with the project’s financing caught for months at the state level, both the senior residents and the DHA have been left without a timeline for the relocation process, as well as the redevelopment project.

The Connecticut Department of Housing recently approved the Darien Housing Authority’s state funding request for the redevelopment project, after nearly a year. For the DHA to receive the funds, however, it must be approved as a part of a bonding request by the state. Representing the DHA’s partner-developer JHM Group on Tuesday, Todd McClutchy said the bonding resolution should be completed by June or July, at which point the funds will be released and the DHA can begin developing a project schedule.

Plans for OTHH’s redevelopment were approved by the town in 2016. The DHA aims to replace the existing six building campus of the Old Town Hall Homes with a single three-story building, increasing the number of available apartments from 30 to 55. All of the apartments are affordable studio or one-bedroom units and are deed-restricted for senior citizens. The total project cost is $22 million with the majority of the funding being provided by state grants and private equity investments.

As of November the DHA reported that 20 of the 30 apartments at OTHH were occupied, and the DHA will not be accepting any more new tenants until the redevelopment is complete. They will pay for the relocation of each existing tenant for the duration of the project’s construction time and will hire third-party consultants to help the seniors individually plan, pack and complete the move.

Over the course of the redevelopment process residents have expressed concerns about the mandatory relocation and a perceived lack of communication from the DHA, which also manages OTHH as a rental property. The Senior Resident Association at OTHH has asked for six months notice prior to being relocated. Though the association has discussed relocation with the DHA from the genesis of the project, the absence of a concrete start date put a strain on those conversations.

Protecting seniors from unsafe conditions like winter weather or overexertion on stairways is one of the major motivations of the new development’s single building design. The new building will be outfitted with elevators and handicap accessible entrances; many units at the current facility are 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. Those shared spaces will all be accessible in the single building and the new one-bedrooms apartments will also be significantly larger than the existing ones.

Because of the specific needs of senior living, the DHA has said finding proper housing for relocation may be a challenge. Warren said that while the residents will be afforded due notice, if viable senior housing is found in a shorter time frame they make encourage some residents to take advantage. He said that once the bonding resolution is completed at the state level, the DHA will begin forming a project schedule and work with each tenant to decide the best course of action.