South End Resident Says Housing Authority Proposal In Flood Zone Is All Wet

Andrew Martinez is a South End resident who opposes a Bridgeport Housing Authority plan for replacement housing in the neighborhood. He writes that good ideas can go bad. He also takes issue with the role of the South End Neighborhood Revitalization Zone. His commentary follows:

Over the past eight years or so the City of Bridgeport has established a series of Neighborhood Revitalization Zones (NRZ). NRZs are neighborhood groups consisting of residents and stakeholders who come together to address issues impacting the community such as blight, crime, or other quality of life issues. Stakeholders, in this case, can be individuals who work for a non-profit, a church, small or large business, or other entity that has some stake in the neighborhood.

Currently, NRZs exist in many parts of Bridgeport including Black Rock, the East Side, and the East End (to name a few). The NRZ concept is unique and interesting, because, in theory, it allows for grass-roots decision-making and planning. It allows for the single parent mother, the elderly woman, business owner, and religious leader, to sit at the table and discuss their neighborhood. Residents know their neighborhood best and understand the myriad quality of life issues impacting the community. Lastly, NRZs are supported by Connecticut tax dollars. The NRZ concept should be applauded and is working well in many communities in Bridgeport and statewide.

However, sometimes good ideas can go bad–and there is a good example in Bridgeport’s South End. In an October 5th 2013 Connecticut Post article the South End NRZ Chair Reverend McCluster states that the South End NRZ Board voted in support of the Bridgeport Housing Authority plan to build public housing in the South End. This housing development would be built in a FEMA Special Hazard Flood Area that has flooded significantly after hurricanes Sandy and Irene–one of the reasons this has been an important topic lately in the South End.

So here are some details that many people do not realize about this so-called “vote.”

– Two individuals who voted are not even on the South End NRZ Board.

– Another five people who voted have expired term limits.

– State law requires at least 51% of the Board consist of community residents and the South End NRZ is below this requirement.

– Individuals did not abstain from voting despite potential conflict of interest. For example, among some community stakeholders who voted, this housing development is in extremely close proximity to their “stake” whether it may be a non-profit, church or business. Therefore, the influx of 150 individuals brought forth by this development, by sheer numeric probability and proximity, will translate into consumers. This last point is not intended to generate conspiracy suspicions, but rather the point is such individuals would have needed to abstain from voting because objectivity in this case is very questionable.

Overall, these behaviors at a minimum reflect gross negligence and a blasé approach to protocol. At its worst, such patterns generate more serious suspicions among citizens. Regardless of the extreme, these practices are not ethical and are in fact illegal. Recently, the Chair was asked for the minutes of this meeting and was publicly asked why such voting irregularities have been permitted. An answer has still not been provided. Not only are the above actions unacceptable, but when complemented by silence, even after repeated public requests–are reprehensible. The reason it is reprehensible is this no longer becomes an isolated incident regarding an illegal vote, but now constitutes a series of deliberate patterns that reinforce this illegal vote.

One wonders–would this vote have been different if the majority of individuals on the Board were residents? Residents who know what it is like to have their home devastated by hurricanes Irene and Sandy. Residents who live paycheck to paycheck and would do anything to make their lives a little more predictable.

The stark rejection of protocol reflected when this vote was taken casts a dark shadow on Connecticut’s NRZ concept. It also detracts from the positive work generated by other NRZs in Bridgeport and statewide, as well as the efforts Bridgeport has made to attain a more positive image.

The City of Bridgeport’s South End community deserves better.



  1. I agree. I would urge all city residents to unite and attend the next meeting at city hall. This is not just a South End issue. The proposal can impact the entire Downtown. I am safely assuming certain developers are laying low on this proposal because they have been the beneficiary of many incentives. I will not mention names here but they know who they are. I would urge North End residents as well to show support or they may as well suggest this proposal for the Stop and Shop site on Madison Ave. This is David Kooris’ idea for development. He is running for office in Stamford, he teaches at Yale and one may wonder does he really give a damn about Bridgeport? Mayor Finch, what do you think? Does he earn his salary here? Really?

  2. A quick note about the way the blog introduced this story. I do not just blindly oppose any plan, I oppose the current BHA plan to date because it is not well thought out and lacks many important details. Here are just a few examples (there are many more).

    – Flood Zone: The public housing will be in a FEMA flood zone, so it costs more to build here ($400,000 per unit). It is not clear why the BHA is choosing this site when they own other land that is not in a flood zone. They can build more housing for less on other land. Money can be saved that can then go to services for families. Also, some of this money can aid families who still have their homes devastated from hurricane Sandy.

    – Flood Zone: The current plan places families in a flood zone, and therefore the building will be elevated. This still does not explain how families will be housed if there is a flood and they cannot return to their home for 2-3 weeks. Will they be placed in a shelter? Hotel? Who will pay for this cost? How will families work, how with their children go to school? Also, this area floods even during strong storms, so we are not just talking about hurricanes. The South End NRZ strategic plan makes this exact point.

    – City Resources: In the event of a hurricane or powerful storm, does the city have the resources to evacuate families? What will this cost be to the city (e.g., overtime pay, police, fire department)? Has the BHA consulted with the city? What will be the overall cost? What are the numbers?

    – Ferry Parking: This plan will be built on the Long Island Ferry parking lot. BHA says they plan to break ground in 2015. So what if the LI Ferry does not move to Steelepointe by then? Do we risk losing the LI Ferry altogether? Where will ferry commuters park? Where is the study that examines how Ferry parking will be impacted? And traffic? Also, if the LI Ferry is impacted, this is no longer a Bridgeport issue–this will have a regional impact.

    – Ethics: Most people would not choose to raise their children in a flood zone. It should be no different for vulnerable families. All families deserve quality and safe housing.

    But this article is not about the BHA, it is about the South End NRZ. And when protocol on the NRZ is not adhered to such as having a majority of residents on the Board–plans like this with serious social justice and economic implications slip through the cracks.

  3. *** Let me start by saying the South End NRZ was one of the last of the finished groups “so far” (NRZ’s) to get city and state approval in order to be considered legit. Even though they have passed the NRZ requirements, they’re still “not” aboard with the other city NRZs. In other words all the NRZs must be close to being on the same page in the way they operate and the rules they follow set forth by the city’s Master Plan, etc. The South End NRZ due to its chair and board tends to do their own thing at times regardless of whether it’s good for the neighborhood or not! It seems to be more of a “what’s good for us” and “what can you do for me” type of NRZ! Also, if you stop to realize the actual land size of the South End and what available land there is to build public housing on, of which most has been declared a flood zone area, the only good spot would be towards the downtown area where the city claims it wants to increase business, music entertainment and sports complex, etc. to bring the area to life 24/7. So this pipe dream is more than likely not happening with a public housing complex in the mix! And a quick comment about FEMA; since Sandy they have bundled up areas in the West Side with the South End just because the longer streets may run from south to west and made areas that have never had flood issues into “flood zones” thus having to purchase flood ins. to maintain one’s existing mortgage! Leaving one to go through an appeals process to have your street and property removed from the list, if lucky! In ending it just goes to show taxpayers real economic development in Bpt is merely a pipe dream and if anything does get started, it’s sure to be a bust somewhere in the future! *** WELCOME TO ZOMBIELAND! ***

  4. Getting more people with a stake in things locally to sit around the table to talk about needs and wants for a community and to plan and strategize WAS THE PURPOSE FOR FORMING NRZ groups. NRZ plans became a way for the City to allocate HUD-CDBG funds, some of them, to certain parts of the City. Of course if you have an organization and by-laws and meetings, etc. there is form and substance to be met.
    Office of Planning & Economic Development generally has not had support of local NRZ as a priority. Some NRZ leaders began meeting informally several years ago calling ourselves NRZ Citywide Leadership to share concerns and successes. The City is finally getting around to formally sending the status of the organization to the State authority that initiated the programs and are assisting in resolving questions about funding, indemnification of groups and members, etc.
    Provisions are there for elections of officers, for appointments, for committee work and territorial boundaries. Go to an NRZ meeting in your section of town. If there is not one today, perhaps you can assist establishing one. We are not doomed to ZOMBIELAND forever, are we Mojo? Time will tell.

    1. The NRZs for the most part are puppets of the administration or in some cases simply egotistical and self-serving.
      They are staffed by political hacks at City Hall and have diluted any real neighborhood leadership and have drained valuable human resources and wasted a lot of people’s time while having the effect of death on what were in years past viable, grass-roots community groups.

      Why do certain neighborhoods get to have these groups and most of the city is ignored?

      Is the BHA the only show in town? No private investors to be found so this organization goes bottom-fishing to fill the void?

      1. Why would you worry about having an NRZ if you are so down on them? Take a look at the West End or visit with us in Black Rock on October 28 at Burroughs when we have our next quarterly meeting. Introduce yourself to me and I will share the reason why some neighborhoods have them and others don’t. It’s not about being ignored, I suggest. Time will tell.

  5. Bridgeporteur–your comment is interesting and this is the reason why there are specifications and protocols regarding the composition of the Board and how Boards are supposed to run–because it is not intended to be self-serving. When these bylaws are not adhered to this is what you end up with. And it is beyond this, now we are getting cases where people vote and are not even on the Board. It is a mess.

  6. Bridgeporteur,
    A little history is in order here. Back in 2004, five new pre-k to eighth grade schools needed to be built in Bridgeport. Only one–Cesar Batalla School was in process. Locating each school was a very contentious neighborhood issue because assembling five eight-acre sites (as required by the Board of Ed) would take lots of land off the tax rolls and certain parties wanted the location to line the pockets of certain individuals. Very contentious. OPED was responsible for assembling the 40 acres needed for the five schools.

    The neighborhoods where these schools were to be located were determined by the Board of Ed. I knew the City had a huge lawsuit back in the days of the HUD Empowerment Zone application and Mayor Fabrizi didn’t want these schools tied up in another set of neighborhood lawsuits. So I recommended the establishment of five Neighborhood Revitalization Zones to surround the location of the five new schools. Why? First, the State Neighborhood Revitalization Zone Statute would govern. Not local politics, not political hacks as you stated, but the law. Second, it would have been stupid to build five new schools and have the surrounding neighborhood in disarray. The stakeholders who are described in Andrew Martinez’ commentary above are charged with guiding the improvements in the neighborhood to reinforce the major public investment in the new schools. Mayor Fabrizi agreed and the process was started. The law is clear and the State Office of Policy and Management provides oversight.

    Now, fast forward. I left the City Administration in 2008. There were four NRZ’s established (West Side/West End, East End, East Side and Barnum/Black Rock) with the fifth, South End, in process. I don’t know exactly what happened since then but the state statute requires the residents must be in the majority as far as the committee membership. If that hasn’t happened, the NRZ is in violation of the law. This situation must be remedied immediately. This isn’t a political hack thing, Bridgeporteur.

    I created the Office of Neighborhood Revitalization division of OPED so there would be support for the NRZ’s. The NRZ’s are created by state statute so the properly constituted NRZ’s are in the driver’s seat.

    As for why other NRZ’s haven’t been created? I think the Mill Hill area now has an NRZ because the new Harding High School is in the pre-development stage. I have heard the Trumbull Gardens neighborhood is in the planning stages for an NRZ. If a neighborhood wants an NRZ, they need to organize and ask the City to support their effort. Often Community Development Block Grant funds are requested and used to retain the planning consultant to do the plan. In the Barnum Black Rock area, I think a bank funded the planning consultant.

    One final comment: The State has often provided bond money for the NRZ’s. So there are state resources for NRZ’s that follow the law. The Hartford NRZ’s get that money often. Bridgeport now has a citywide NRZ Committee. If and when all the NRZ’s are in compliance with the State rules, they could apply to the state for resources to implement their City Council-approved neighborhood plans.

    Andrew Martinez is a South End resident who wants his neighborhood to improve and is doing something about it. He deserves our support.

  7. As for the BHA Proposal to build 74 units on the Ferry parking lot. I wrote a commentary on October 1st regarding the ill-advised timing of this proposed development. The BHA should start with their former Father Panik site, and end with the Ferry Boat parking lot site.

  8. I know what people think NRZs are supposed to do. They aren’t. The idea of putting a suburban-style campus in the city, knocking down hundreds of housing units, spending hundreds of millions of dollars, displacing businesses and then establishing so-called NRZs to make the schools the neighborhood center, hasn’t worked. The schools are islands in the middle of nowhere.

    1. Bridgeporteur,
      The decision for eight-acre schools was NOT an NRZ idea. It was a mandate in the School Master Plan adopted by the elected Board of Ed back in the early 2000s. Not sure of the date. One of the first things I did as OPED Director was appear before the Board of Ed and requested they shrink the size of the school footprint to half. DENIED. I was shown the door in rapid fashion.

      So OPED went about finding ways to purchase the eight acres for each school with the least impact on the tax base. Don’t blame the NRZ’s. They didn’t make that decision. The job of the NRZ’s is to develop a plan, get Council approval and go about improving the neighborhoods around the schools. One big part of their role is to be vigilant watching the PZC and ZBA agendas to support those projects that would enhance the neighborhood and work against those that would add negative influences.

  9. I have attended the lion’s share of South End NRZ meetings over the last few years. I have attended as a South End homeowner, a candidate for public office, a taxpayer and a concerned citizen. I have quietly watched the circus that is the Carl McCluster show. Whether it was the hugely unpopular halfway house proposal, “discussions” about how to attract meaningful development to the area, or now this mess of the BHA Marina Village relocation to Broad Street … one constant has been the position of the “Chairman” Reverend Carl McCluster has been in stark contrast to the position or consensus of folks living in the community. The average homeowner, stakeholder, resident of the South End. It always bothered me that Carl, with his often controversial opinions on the future of our neighborhood, did not actually live here. But I acquiesced. I kept quiet until the last NRZ meeting when Carl very matter-of-factly stated the majority of people in the South End support the BHA project! I asked him point blank what formula he used to take the temperature of the community on this important issue. How many people were for? How many against? And considering he does not live in Bridgeport, when did he conduct this survey? He became agitated, as he is prone to doing, and he began saying if he was given a chance to explain, he would prove his point. Needless to say after stammering on and on about how much time he spends in the South End, he failed to answer my simple question. In the end I believe he said he talked to “a hundred” people for, and fifty against. Something like that. Anyway my point is this type of dog-and-pony show is common at NRZ meetings in the South End. Despite the Reverend’s assertion the vocal opposition to the BHA proposal is a “minority,” I can tell you (as someone who lives here) that is not a fair or accurate statement, and it was silly of him to tell the CT Post as much. He claims that is not what he said, but I have read the article over and over, and unless I am missing something … that is exactly what he said. Hats off to Andrew, to my neighbors who have sat through NRZ meetings voicing opposition, to Nancy Hadley for her thought-provoking commentary, to Barbara Kelly for bringing us all together, and to the countless folks on the NRZ e-mail list for applying pressure to Carl and his ilk for suggesting our feelings on this urgent issue are void of fact and based in fear. One final note, predictably, our elected officials (State Rep Santiago, Senator Ayala, one of the Council members, and the Mayor’s office) have been silent on this thorny proposal. I will say, while I do not agree with her, Councilwoman Denese Taylor-Moye has been vocal in her support for the BHA’s proposal. She is a Marina Village resident, and she was happy to discuss her thoughts with me at the last meeting. Again I totally disagree with her, but at least I don’t have to guess how she feels about it. I cannot say the same for the other elected officials. In fact you rarely if ever see them at meetings. Shame on them.

  10. During the past month the South End community has questioned why such voting irregularities were allowed–NO ANSWER. Why were there two people who were not on the Board who were allowed to vote–NO ANSWER. Why are there 5 people with expired terms on the Board–NO ANSWER. Why don’t residents constitute the majority of the Board–NO ANSWER. Where are the minutes of the special meeting in which a “vote” was generated in support of this project–NO ANSWER. When will these minutes be provided–NO ANSWER.

    There is an egregious power control taking place on the South End NRZ–and there is a lack of transparency. The community has become very frustrated by the lack of transparency and inability to adhere to protocol. The community is not asking rocket-science questions–the community is only asking the obvious things such as–“where are the minutes” “why were these people allowed to vote.” Every step seems like pulling teeth, and it makes the South End residents very upset. The South End residents are becoming hugely inpatient. I hear it all the time about how frustrated and upset people are becoming. People have been so upset that attendance is now at an all-time high at the NRZ meetings because people are now demanding answers and accountability. But still–NO ANSWER. The South End NRZ is operating illegally–this needs to be cleaned up immediately.

  11. Carl’s quote in the Post earlier this month:
    But McCluster argues the opposition is not representative of the community.

    “The South End has several thousand residents and sometimes when a small group of people speak a lot, then it could be mis-perceived to be the general mood of the entire population,” McCluster said.

    McCluster said current Housing Authority administrators are being held accountable for the sins of the past.

  12. The residents MUST be in control on an NRZ. It’s the law. I suggest you write a letter or request an appointment with the Assistant City Attorney Ed Schmidt to discuss the issues you have raised on this blog. I was there when City Attorney Mark Anastasi and Assistant City Attorney Ed Schmidt appeared at the SE NRZ when it seemed the Chair was acting inappropriately regarding that huge halfway house that was proposed at Wendt Field. They were very stern with the Pastor. Contact them. If not, go right to the State’s Office of Policy and Management. They had to approve the plan before the City Council reviewed and approved it.

  13. Thank you Andrew for clearly stating the concerns of many South End residents that are being ignored by the SENRZ. The blatant dysfunction of the organization you described, and I have witnessed, bears no resemblance to the information Nancy has provided in her comments. Having sat through the last four SENRZ meetings, (2 of which were “special”) in hopes of gaining a clearer perspective on the BHA’s plans and if the Board was supportive or not, I could not help but notice several things.
    Other than an email to a list of about 60 or so made up of Board members, city employees and South End residents, the SENRZ made no additional effort to inform the rest of its residents they were working with BHA in support of their development. This is common practice of the SENRZ. In a community where residents may or may not have access to internet this is not an effective way to get the word out.
    The meetings themselves ranged from strange to outrageous. Some were inappropriately held in Carl McCluster’s church, one of which was so tightly controlled, public questions and comment for BHA were only accepted in writing. That causing an uproar, the next meeting’s agenda allowed for spoken questions and comments however BHA did not show up for this one. Questions went unanswered. Another curious thing about these meetings is there were never more than 6 or 7 of the Board members present at any given time. Where were the other Board members and why hadn’t they attended the last four SENRZ meetings? How were they being informed of the BHA’s plans, and what do they know about how the neighborhood is responding? Some things just don’t translate in the minutes.
    Does all this even matter? No, not really. Ultimately as you’ve stated Andrew, the Board is illegally assembled and therefore unable to support the BHA’s proposal.
    It’s amusing to go back in this blog to February 2012 to find Carl McCluster in the thick of another controversy over Wentfield Park, being called on the similar improprieties.
    Time for change in the South End now!

  14. Contact Dulce Nieves, she’s from the South End and on the board of commissioners for the housing authority.

    I heard the director of development for the housing authority say the zoning is grandfathered in because the site is the former Pequonock Apts and the new proposed site falls within the same scope of use. They are already interviewing tax credit syndicators to move forward on the development. So if the South End truly wants to stop this project, I suggest they start making some noise quick and soon.

    Nancy is totally right about the foolishness of this project when the housing authority should be piggy-backing on Steelpointe and focusing development on the former FPV site.

  15. I think we can all agree the provision and availability of affordable housing is of the utmost necessity and urgency, given all of the statistics we see bandied about these days with regard to the increasing percentage of our income being allocated to our housing needs. There is not one of us in this room tonight who does not feel the pinch of housing costs.

    I would go even further to say affordable housing ought to be considered a basic human right. However, the information regarding this project, as presented to us in its present form and content, is inadequate to be used as a basis to render a decision in favor of it. Overall, there is an alarming lack of transparency intrinsic to this project.

    Regarding this proposal, there is a great deal of information that has only recently been provided, at the request of South End residents and stakeholders; thus far, this information has consisted of a draft report containing graphical depictions of street elevations, and an unreleased environmental assessment. Further, this draft environmental assessment does not address some practical aspects of life on the South End. To this point:

    The environmental assessment report, (Project No. 20121111.A12) prepared by Fuss & O’Neill of West Springfield Massachusetts, is dated Wednesday, September 25th. It was distributed to stakeholders Saturday, September 28th, two days after a public question and answer forum was held on September 26th, 2013 at University of Bridgeport.

    This report is not complete, in the sense the only signatory to this report is that of its author. There are no attendant signatures of the cognizant responsible agency, or an authorized municipal official attached to this report. To emphasize, this draft report was made available to the public three days after a vote was held regarding this project. One can only conclude board members (the legitimacy of whom has been placed into question in earlier commentary) are making decisions in the absence of fact. I am not quite certain how it is possible to reach and maintain conclusions prior to having all the necessary particulars at our convenience.

    This report has significant shortcomings. A traffic study is not complete. However, any resident of the South End will tell you our narrow, and in many cases undermaintained roads are pushed to the limits as it stands. Whenever there is an event at Harbor Yard, or an event held in Seaside Park, it goes without saying it is going to take additional time for residents to traverse the neighborhood due to traffic redirection and congestion. Additionally, South End residents seem to be amongst the last to be dug out after a significant snowfall. Unless there are additional municipal services that are emplaced to react to snow removal, and significant road improvements accompanying this development, residents of this development will continue to endure the same chronic traffic issues current South End residents cope with daily.

    A security plan has not been completed. The Fuss and O’Neill report essentially does a “hand wave” stating there is sufficient police and emergency coverage for this area, but any South End resident will tell you current coverage is largely inadequate. We all know someone who has had their car stripped or broken into. It is not reasonable to expect an addition of 74 residences will alleviate the present burden on emergency responders, and this begs the question whether their safety has been considered.

    Practicable alternatives to locating the proposed action in a floodplain have apparently not been considered. There are many unused buildings that lay fallow in Bridgeport that can be restored and developed for residential use, much like the former Warnaco Building I live in currently. To revitalize these buildings and repurpose them for residential use would certainly be a reflection of our sustainability objectives. I would like to see an analysis of options studied.

    The economics of this initiative per the Sources and Uses portion of the report do not “add up”–74 units at a cost of $31,414,368 per this report equals approximately $414,500 per housing unit. That is not an inconsiderable amount, all things considered. This assumes this project will be performed on time, with no cost overruns. The cost does not include necessary infrastructure improvements, sewage, water main or water drainage improvements. There are hidden costs that are not accounted for, and certainly there must be more affordable options.

    To go further in addressing sustainability objectives, there currently exists a lack of basic commercial services for all South End residents–there are no nearby pharmacies, grocery stores, green grocers, or any other retail support services for residents in the South End that are within walking distance of this development. A motor vehicle is a necessity to provide oneself with the most basic of needs. This is not how I would define a sustainable community. We need to rethink this entire project, this community, quite literally from the ground up.

    Additionally, the conclusions of the South End Neighborhood Revitalization Plan report dated March 26th, 2010 (UMass Amherst) are being selectively cherry-picked. This report recognizes the need for affordable housing, but also outlines endemic infrastructure problems that must be addressed in conjunction with any further development, problems I have described above. The current project plan (if indeed we can call it a plan) seemingly ignores the conclusions of this report.

    To summarize, the information that has been made available that would enable stakeholders to make an educated decision is limited, in draft form, and has been rushed through. There has not been sufficient time available to conduct a thorough and deliberate review of the contents of this preliminary, unreleased report, time that would allow shareholders to make fact-based decisions. Our collective and personal practical experiences living on the South End permit us to understand first-hand not only the challenges we face in times of normalcy, but also in times of duress, and it is abundantly obvious this project would expose those whom are most vulnerable in our population to the same hardships and challenges experienced by current South End residents. I have a choice living where I do; many of our fellow citizens would not have a choice. This is not a case of reactionary, “NIMBY” behavior, as has been portrayed. Until some very basic, first-principle infrastructure issues are addressed and remedied, as the South End Neighborhood Revitalization Plan report delineates, further development is folly.

    I firmly believe there is room for us all, but this project does not meet the primary objectives of sustainable development, and the existing infrastructure requires vast improvements prior to further development, whether that development be affordable housing or luxury high rises.


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