The Darien Housing Authority expects to begin redevelopment on the senior affordable housing complex Old Town Hall Homes early next year, demolishing the existing campus of six buildings and 30 apartments to make way for a new stand-alone building with 55 units.

But before the construction process can begin, the DHA will need to relocate the 20 senior residents of OTHH. In preparation for the move the DHA stopped accepting new tenants last year. The housing authority has committed to paying the relocation costs of each existing tenant for the duration of the project’s construction time and has hired third-party consultants to help seniors locate housing, plan, pack and complete the move.

The DHA expects the seniors to be fully relocated by Jan. 1, 2019. In a letter to the Darien Times, a resident of OTHH reported that tenants have been given a listing of approved apartment complexes in the area, but none of the housing is located in Darien. The available properties are located between Bridgeport and Stamford. During a May meeting, DHA Chairman Joe Warren said finding local housing that suits the needs of senior residents would be a challenge.

At the same meeting in May, the Senior Resident Association at OTHH asked for at least six months notice prior to being relocated, which lines up with the DHA plans for Jan. 2019. In the past residents had expressed concerns about the mandatory relocation and a perceived lack of communication from the DHA, which manages OTHH as a rental property. Residents have been anticipating relocation for about two years while the DHA worked to secure funding for the redevelopment.

With a date now set, four residents have already secured new housing and begun the moving process, putting the DHA ahead of schedule.

“So far relocation is going much better than I believe anybody expected.” Warren said during a DHA meeting last week. “I can tell you from several conversations I’ve had with the tenants and relatives of tenants that they are much more relaxed about what’s going on than they were a several months ago, now that a couple people have actually found an apartment.”

Though some of the residents have expressed a desire to keep OTHH as it currently stands, the DHA is confident that the new building will provide a better quality of life for seniors. In addition to adding 25 more one-bedroom units to the town’s affordable housing stock, all 55 of the apartments in the new building will be considerably larger than the current studio and one-bedroom units.

At the current campus seniors have to travel outside to access mail and shared community spaces, and second floor apartments are only accessible via outdoor stairways. The new building will be outfitted with elevators and handicap accessible entrances, and the DHA has stated that there will be a larger emphasis on shared community spaces in the building compared to the split campus of the current OTHH.

“We’re slightly ahead of where we thought we would be at this time in terms of relocation,” Warren said. “Now what’s the net impact of that? The sooner we get all of our tenants relocated, the sooner we can get started with demolition of the existing buildings. The sooner we get it demoed, the sooner we can start build the new building.”

Plans for OTHH’s redevelopment were approved by the town’s Planning & Zoning Commission in 2016. After extended delays the project was approved by the State Department of Housing and cleared for funding in May 2018. The total project cost is estimated at $22 million with the majority of the funding being provided by state grants and private equity investments. Once construction is underway the project is expected to take between a year and 18 months to complete.