“The Whit” Brings Market-Priced Housing to Wooster Square, Raises Affordability Issues

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Courtesy of Hines

Former parking lots and a dilapidated office building will soon be transformed into brick facades, steel accents and market-priced apartments.

On Tuesday morning, city leaders and developers gathered to pave the way for “The Whit” Wooster Square, a mixed-use community that will open by 2022. Mayor Justin Elicker announced the two buildings in January. According to city spokesperson Gage Frank, the project – which is being developed by Hines, an international real estate investment company – will include 230 apartments and 5,600 square feet of street-level retail space. The site is located in the Wooster Square neighborhood, and Frank said the current plans for the buildings include architecture inspired by the styles of the neighborhood.

“We are excited to launch a project that will do more than add new housing and commercial space to the city,” said Elicker. “The Whit Wooster Square will create a vibrant hub of commercial and residential life in the Wooster Square neighborhood. “

The city has been considering developments in the Wooster Square area for some time now. In 2017, former mayor Toni Harp commissioned the Wooster Square planning study, which sought to find ways to balance future improvements while preserving the character and history of the neighborhood. According to the study, the goals of any future development were to improve access to the city center, find uses for underutilized land and buildings, and promote “the cultural diversity of Wooster Square”.

Frank said the city has gone through an extensive process of engagement with the local community and that the new project is in line with what was expressed in the study.

“The Hines team is bringing a vision of sustainable quality to life, in line with the objectives of the Wooster Square study,” said Mike Piscitelli, administrator of economic development for New Haven. “We look forward to building a lasting partnership with Hines over many years. “

Grant Jaber, managing director of Hines, told the News his group had met with both the local alders and the local community management team throughout the design process, calling the process very collaborative.

Neither the Wooster Square downtown community management team nor Ward 8’s Alder Ellen Cupo responded to a request for comment.

Jaber, as well as Frank, noted the site’s proximity to both Yale and Yale New Haven Hospital as part of its appeal. He pointed out that these permanent institutions employ several thousand people, making the Wooster Square area a coveted site for market-priced housing developments. Echoing Piscitelli, he said Hines had already had preliminary talks with the city on future projects.

“A place like New Haven attracts a large following for this type of housing which is really attractive,” Jaber said. “We are definitely open to more development in New Haven.”

Cordalie Benoit, president of the Historic Wooster Square Association and longtime resident of the neighborhood, fell in love with the “vibrancy” of the New Haven community from the moment she entered. She said many residents of Wooster Square have expressed concern about the effects the project of this size could have on the character of the community.

“Some of these people are second or third generation [Wooster Square residents], said Benoît. “And there is a population that believes their way of life is going to be eclipsed.”

She also pointed out that Wooster Square is a small neighborhood, with a population of less than 4,000 people. The project could bring several hundred additional residents into the neighborhood. Benoit also expressed concern that new units will be priced to market as opposed to affordable housing.

“The market rate doesn’t mean the average New Haven person has the ability to afford a rental,” Benoit said. “The market rate means the highest price, as much money as we can get for that square footage. But affordable housing is needed in a community.

Anna Grace Barry, who has lived in Wooster Square for over 3 years, reflected on Benoit’s concerns. Barry lives down the street from the construction site and said she has been following recent development plans closely. While she doesn’t blame the city for making new developments and investing in neighborhoods, she is concerned about affordability issues.

“Having ‘The Whit’ is cool – it’s that brilliant, awe-inspiring thing,” Barry said. “There are a lot of very good intentions behind the buildings. But in reality, the market rate is unaffordable for most New Haven citizens, unless they are affiliated with Yale.

Jaber said the project is for members of the Yale New Haven Hospital workforce, Yale graduate and vocational school students, “empty nesters” or people who might otherwise have homes. vacation but want to move to a more urban environment. He said he believes the project will be more accessible to those who are not already from Wooster Square or surrounding communities.

The mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment on issues relating to the affordability of development.

Benoit told the News that she has no problem with bringing money into a community or with high income people moving into Wooster Square. Her hope, however, is that the developers are continually working to collaborate with the existing community, the community she has loved since she was a girl.

“I want [Hines] not to just see it as a place where they can build housing that they can make a lot of money on, ”said Benoit. “I am not against them making money – I am against them who only make money. I’d like to see them think about how [they] can help make New Haven a better place 20 or 30 years from now.

The median income in Elm City is $ 41,142, according to the United States Census Bureau.

Thomas birmingham | thomas.birmingham@yale.edu


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