I served as president of NEAT from 1998 to 2002. In January 1999 the decision was made at one of NEAT's public forums to form a Housing Committee. Charged with developing a plan for upgrading the deplorable housing and general living conditions in the district of the North End east of Main Street, its' membership eventually included developers, landlords, organizers from NEAT, a banker and representatives from Wesleyan University.

The North End is bounded by 3 highways, Washington Avenue lies to the south. Route 9 , to the east, cuts off the Connecticut River from the rest of the City. This has destroyed its economic potential and been a plague on the city's development since its' construction. Between Route 9 and the North End there is an access road, DeKoven Drive, which may be considered the eastern boundary of the North End.

Although High Street to the west, the lower boundary of Wesleyan University, is also the upper boundary of the North End, one finds another highway, Route 3, a few blocks further on to the west.

In addition, Main Street itself is officially considered part of the state highway system, and cuts right through the North End! Thus, not only is it on the "other side" of several tracks, the tracks further sub-divide it into more bite-sized parcels.

And there is yet another small tract of land to the north of town, officially in the North End, which is the most unfortunate victim of the way this part of town has been carved up by the Department of Transportation: the "Miller and Bridge" area lies just north of the quaint Arrigoni Bridge connecting Middletown with Portland on the other side of the river. To walk there one must follow and cross some railroad tracks; its only means of vehicular access is from Route 9. Sometimes cars get stuck on the tracks. To date the accidents have not been major, but there have been some close calls. This district is bounded on the west by heavily polluted brownfields, a legacy of the sizable industrial park of factories that decamped to the Third World in the 80's.

Miller and Bridge is currently slated for demolition in a 4-phase process. Without boasting, one can rightfully claim that the City's reluctant decision to eliminate its residential properties and relocate its score or so of inhabitants, was the result of the dedication and persistence of NEAT. To learn more about Middletown's equivalent of "Tobacco Road", go to Miller and Bridge

. The Housing Committee was officially acknowledged by NEAT in May. Initially its members were:

Our focus was on the district to the east side of Main Street, between Washington Avenue to the south and the narrow access ramp leading down to Route 9 on the north. There are 3 residential streets, Ferry, Green and Rapallo, each about the size of a city block, (1/8th of a mile) going between Main and DeKoven. Both housing, and the landlords that collect the rents, vary from the acceptable to the appalling. One finds decent landlords, absentee landlords and slumlords: no purpose would be served in listing their names here. A few of the more unsavory landlords came for awhile to our Thursday morning meetings and tried to disrupt them. Eventually they left us alone. What seemed to surprise them more than anything else was that we were going about the business of transforming the neighborhood in a serious manner, unlike so many other initiatives in the past that had petered out after lots of talk.

Carole Ketelsen was one of the better landlords. She worked very conscientiously with the Committee for a few years. Then she sold her properties in the North End and left. Munro Johnson eventually found that he was unable to cope with his conflict of interests; he left the Housing Committee shortly before quitting the office of Planning and Zoning altogether. His replacement was Michiel Wackers, who remained with us until the end, and is still with P&Z. By 2003 the persons and organizations in regular attendance at the Thursday morning meetings were:

In September of 2001, the Housing Committee took the name of NEHI, (North End Housing Initiative) and was incorporated as an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation). The membership and voting structures were a bit complicated, but essentially they gave NEAT wide veto power over a range of neighborhood issues: rehabilitation and design standards; social services; numbers of units; lighting; traffic; income mix and rental rates; etc. NEAT had no participation in or say over the finances, which were entirely in the hands of the developers. These short descriptions are intended to give some idea of their background and capabilities:

The Connection Fund: Founded in 1989 it provides affordable housing for nonprofit agencies throughout the state. Among its achievements in Middletown are the children's museum (Kid City), Liberty Commons, ( a supportive housing condominium, the first in Connecticut, for persons of limited means, on welfare or in Section #8 programs) and the Middletown Youth Center.

Nehemiah Housing Corporation: Nehemiah, founded in 1986, has provided apartments and cooperative living situations for persons recovering from drug addiction, alcoholism or after release from mental hospitals. It has done a remarkable job, which explains why it has always figured at the top of the list of the City' s priorities for demolition. Organizations like Nehemiah make a neighborhood look bad. With the intent of giving the Richman Group site control on enough properties to apply for Low Income Housing Tax Credits, the City has recently seized its properties on Ferry Street by eminent domain. The case is now in litigation.

Habitat for Humanity needs no introduction. Their interest in working with NEHI was restricted to rehabilitating four buildings owned by the City.

Alderhouse Residential Communities : The Artist's COOP, now in a cooperative relationship with the NOMA art gallery in the same building, has benefited the whole city since its' opening in September of 2002. Even the mayor, Dominique Thornton, points to it as a sign of the impending "Renaissance" that lies just around the corner.

NEHI convened regularly every Thursday 7:30 to 8:30 in the morning for 5 years, with breaks for holidays and vacations. These meetings came to an end when the City withdrew its support in favor of the Richman Group in December of 2004.

Our meetings were real work sessions at which the details of planning and design, population, income , the compiling of statistics, fund raising options and proposals, negotiations with city agencies and landlords, the whole range of issues involved in transforming the neighborhood were discussed and acted upon. An architect, Bill Crosskey, was hired to create mock-ups of the neighborhood derived from our evolving picture of what was possible on the basis of our requirements : a mixed income population with realistic percentages of home ownership and rental; no forced relocation for families and individuals not engaged in illegal occupations; expulsion of slum lords and drug dealers; green space and a community garden; adequate social services; community management to be administered by a company such as Community Builders, Inc. (which sent representatives to our meetings for the first year.)

By January, 2000 NEHI had progressed to the stage when it could begin presenting its work to the City and the public. For the next 3 years we were shuffled from one agency to another, drafting and revising documents and power point displays, meeting with officials, exhibiting Bill Crosskey's renditions as soon as they became available. Our flexibility was a match for the City's intransigence: advice or even instructions from Bill Warner, the director of Planning and Zoning, and the Redevelopment Agency which he directs, were immediately acted upon.

As an example: from the beginning Bill Warner insisted that a new street be cut through the existent neighborhood to connect Ferry and Green Streets. Warner believed that this would increase the population density of the district, which he thought was a good thing: (Obviously there are, and will always be, two schools of thought on the matter: "High density good" and "High density bad "). After numerous attempts on our part to integrate the new street into the overall plan, we were finally able to convince Warner of its unfeasibility.

Suddenly he was insisting on surveys of all the buildings in the neighborhood that we intended to rehabilitate or demolish . This would be needed, he insisted , to assess their worth in the eventuality that eminent domain would be used to take them. There was no way we could afford to do this, nor could we see any purpose being served in doing so. (It is noteworthy that the present developer, the Richman Group, has no intention of conducting such surveys and expects the City to do them.)

Warner continue to pressure us to add a private developer to the NEHI confederation. Carl Rodenhizer was friendly with a private developer named Paul Fusari. He'd done some construction around the city in affordable housing. Some discussions took place but basically Fusari wasn't interested. Bill Warner continued to place obstacles in NEHI's way, some reasonable, others obviously intended to make it difficult to obtain city support.

Even more obstructive and hostile to NEAT and NEHI was the Middletown Housing Authority, or MHA. This awards Section #8 certificates for low income families. Even as the Redevelopment Agency (RA) functions as the rubber stamp for Bill Warner's proposals, the MHA is the rubber stamp for the policies of its direction Mark Masselli. Masselli has quite rightly gained some esteem in Connecticut for setting up a system of Community Health Centers in Middletown and other parts of the state. These provide affordable medicine for low-income populations, those on welfare or covered by Title 19 (Medicaid). CHC maintains a medical clinic and dental clinic in the North End on Main Street, close to the Artist's COOP. All of us us them. As one can see everything in the North End is close knit.

One might have expected that, having done so much for the poorest neighborhoods in Middletown, that Mr. Masselli would have been very supportive of NEHI's activities. His opposition seems to have come primarily from the need to control everything that happens in the North End. There is also a long-standing feud between himself and The Connection Fund, the details of which are unknown to me . Although obviously quick to resent any encroachments on his authority he sometimes appears to be at a lose as to just what this authority consists of, and one often finds him saying and doing contradictory things.

The City's strategy of giving NEHI the run-around, repeatedly demanding presentations of things it had already seen before and raising innumerable petty objections, is borne out by the record, of which the following is only a small piece:

  1. On January 26, 2000, NEHI held a public forum at the Trinity Church. (This is on Main Street on the other side of Washington Avenue from the North End.) This produced a large turnout. As is her custom, the mayor, Domenique Thornton, showed up late, said a few innocuous words, and left.

  2. On February 20 there was another presentation to the Middletown Housing Authority. In addition, private conversations were held , on Feb 20, May 4, and July 6, with Mark Masselli and William Vasiliou, the two directors of the MHA .

  3. NEHI addressed the Common Council on May 3rd.

  4. On September 11 NEHI, with the apparent blessing of Bill Warner, was endorsed by the Redevelopment Agency.

  5. On February 13, 2001, NEHI was asked to give another presentation to the RA

  6. On February 14 NEHI addressed the Design Review Board

  7. On March 12, NEHI was asked to once more explain its intentions to the MHA

  8. On March 21, NEHI addressed the Citizens Advisory Committee. This is the agency responsible for issuing Block Grants

  9. On March 26, NEHI once again explained its plans at a hearing of the RA to which the public was invited.

  10. On July 9 NEHI addressed the Economic Development Agency

  11. On July 11 it was summoned to address the Department of Planning and Zoning, which controls the RA

  12. Yet another meeting with the MHA on August 13

  13. NEHI formally incorporates itself as an LLC in September

  14. Finally, in January ,2002, NEHI was authorized to receive block grants from the Department of Economic Development.

  15. On February 11 the MHA held a public hearing at which NEHI was instructed to defend its proposals. Mark Masselli bristled with hostility. He descended to personal insults, from which even Bill Warner and Peter Patton, Wesleyan University's representative at the meeting, were not spared.
This appeared to have worked in our favor. Warner was so outraged by the presumption of the MHA that, although lukewarm to NEHI from the beginning, he came over to our side and persuaded the RA to endorse our proposals. Once the Redevelopment Agency gave its seal of approval, the Common Council's endorsement of NEHI as the City's designated developer for the North End, was merely a formality. Quoting from the Middletown Press, July 2, 2002:

City Endorses NEAT pan; North End revitalization gets the green light:

"A long-awaited community-supported redevelopment plan to revitalize the city's North End was endorsed by the Common Council, despite a differing legal opinion."

The differing legal opinion came from a lawyer hired by the MHA. It directly challenged the authority of the RA and, by implication, Bill Warner's department of Planning and Zoning:

"The Middletown Housing Authority's attorney (John Boccalatte) disagreed with the opinion that the Redevelopment Agency did not need the authority's approval for its North End Action Team-supported proposal.....'The Housing Authority declined to approve the plan', he said, 'We contend (that) without it, it can't be approved by the city.'"

The city countered by bringing up its own lawyer, Timothy Lynch, who argued that, as NEHI's plan was being introduced as an amendment to an "existing plan" (long defunct proposals of 1990 and 1992), the approval of the MHA was not needed. Clearly clutching at straws, Boccalatte added:

"One of the substantial changes is to create a road in the center [of the block]. I think it's an obvious substantial change. If it's substantial it must go through the same adoption process."

In fact NEHI had never liked this road. It was being kept in the plan because of Bill Warner's insistence that it be there. The complete article can be read at Middletown Press

This major hurdle overcome, the endorsement ( the use of the word "endorsement" as opposed to "approval" was suggested by Lynch and reflects some fine legal distinction.) of NEHI as designated developer for the City passed quickly through the Common Council.

The implacable hostility of the MHA meant that it would block all grant proposals and other efforts at fund-raising by NEHI. It could also exercise its control over the issuing of Section 8 certificates to restrict our ability to plan for low-income housing. We'd imagined, however, that the endorsement of Bill Warner and the RA would compensate for this liability, but we were soon to discover how far off this was from reality.

Chapter 3: NEHI,2003

Return to

Home Page