Westbrook Village and Bowles Park are two old, falling-down public housing developments in the city of Hartford. For over a decade, there have been efforts to tear them down and build something new on their almost 130 acres near the West Hartford line. There’s about to be some movement.
To understand the future of these two projects, you have to understand their past.
Most public housing in the state was paid for and later subsidized by the federal government. But not Westbrook Village and Bowles Park.
Their construction was paid for by the state decades ago, but taxpayers didn’t provide any annual money for upkeep.
The two developments now have outlived their use.
The Hartford Housing Authority stopped leasing units there back in 2011. They’ve since started moving the remaining residents from Bowles Park, giving them rental housing subsidies to live elsewhere. And in early 2017, demolition at that development is set to begin.
“People need homes, you know, something better than what we had,” said Rose Price, a resident who lived at Bowles Park for 30 years until she got help to move as part of this process. She’s ready to see some change.
“I hope and pray that they do it,” Price said. “They say that they’re going to do it. They’re moving people out.”
Marilyn Rossetti, the chair of the authority’s board of commissioners, said she thinks the project will be good a rental and homeownership opportunity for neighborhood residents. And that’s important in a city that’s spent a lot of money building downtown housing.
“As a resident, you often say, ‘Well, what about me? What’s happening in my neighborhood? Why isn’t there something simultaneously happening?’” Rossetti said. “And this is. And I think it’s exciting.”
Westbrook Village is still waiting on funding. But demolition at Bowles Park will start early next year. The 410 units will be knocked down and replaced in phases. The first phase includes 29 units of homeownership and 62 rental units, and it will be built as a public/private partnership with a development group.
Annette Sanderson is the authority’s executive director, and she said this work is long overdue.
“To be able to transform these developments is not only transforming the developments but transforming the communities and, ultimately, a key area of the city of Hartford,” Sanderson said, adding that the plan is for both developments to be mixed-income.
“We’re not interested in building back what’s there,” she said. “In order to make these communities viable in the future, we’re interested in building back mixed-income communities.”
The work at Westbrook Village will be even higher-profile, Sanderson said. That project runs along Albany Avenue near the University of Hartford.
She’s hoping that the new Westbrook Village will include retail and commercial uses. So there are a lot of changes in the works.
As for Rose Price, she isn’t sure she wants another one. When she left Bowles Park, she -- like others -- got financial support to find someplace new. Now, she’s in an apartment she likes. And she may not move back.
“I’m 71 years old, and I'll soon be 72. Just moving here was a whole lot,” Price said. “I’m not saying I’m not coming back, but I just don’t know yet. But I'm comfortable right where I'm at right now.”
Price said she’ll look at the new Bowles Park when it’s done. It’ll have a new name -- Willow Creek. If she likes what she sees, she might make one more move.