Neighborhood rallies against developers greed

NewsAnalysis

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — This city’s communities have had enough of real estate developers coming into their neighborhoods, taking over their property and leaving them with little or no voice in the matter.

On Dec. 13, a “neighborhood convention” was held at Betsy Ross School in the Hill area of New Haven in response to the pending construction of a new cancer center at Yale-New Haven Hospital. The convention was organized by the Community Organized for Responsible Development (CORD).

Rev. Scott Marks and Rev. Jose Champagne, co-chairs of CORD, opened the meeting with a church-style service. Champagne said, “History is being made in New Haven. No one can stop a united community. No matter the language or color, the New Haven community has united and set out to conquer and will succeed.”

Marks hailed those in attendance as “freedom fighters,” and paid tribute to the “many brilliant minds in the community.”

Over 500 clergy, politicians, community, labor activists and environment groups were standing, clapping and shouting in full agreement with a convention “community benefits agreement,” which spells out a code of conduct for developers and the city government. A majority of the 30 members of the Board of Aldermen were present, and on a roll call vote agreed to support the demands adopted during the convention.

The Board of Aldermen had already unanimously adopted a resolution on July 6, resolving that they would take into account community benefits when considering projects for approval, including “voluntary payments in lieu of taxes, living wage jobs, environmental standards, local hiring and training, direct benefits to local schools, affordable housing construction, neighborhood preservation and community stabilization, park and recreation space, residential parking and responsible contracting, charitable giving, and cultural amenities.”

The convention was part of a long-term struggle. In the early spring of 2004, residents of the Hill neighborhood — having seen a quarter of all affordable housing in the area taken down in the last 10 years due to development — started raising concerns and questions about Yale-New Haven Hospital’s plans to build a new cancer center nearby. The Connecticut Center for a New Economy stepped up to the plate and offered to help.

After several months of discussion and debates, CORD was formed. From these weekly meetings new leaders emerged and, during the summer months, neighborhood activists, joined by unions, did grassroots organizing. They took a survey to over 780 Hill residents, asking them about their concerns, including about the new cancer center. The results of the survey showed that neighbors want affordable housing, jobs, public health, better parking and traffic management, environmental and open space improvements, education and youth recreation.

CORD found that New Haven residents aren’t against the proposed Yale-New Haven Hospital Cancer Center, but said the building of the center must be guided by a mutual agreement between the community and Yale.

The hospital, together with Yale University, is the largest employer in New Haven. Currently 150 dietary workers are the only unionized workers at the hospital, although other employees of the hospital want to be organized. An organizing drive has been underway in the hospital for over five years. Yale-New Haven Hospital has made every attempt to dampen the union organizing drive.

The hospital administration has tried to undercut community support for CORD by claiming it is only a ploy of the unions to gain representation, and is not truly part of the neighborhood.

Hill resident Deborah Dimbo, who has worked at the hospital for 34 years, said at the convention, “No one should have to work two jobs, three jobs to pay for their household. Wages should be good enough to support a family with one job.” She added, “I want to leave for people coming behind me good union-paying jobs.”

Cortez Stewart, a Hill resident who participated in the summer surveys, said, “Someone working in a union job at Yale makes $10,000 more than someone working in a comparable nonunion job at the hospital.” He said residents not only want good health care, but also good jobs. He added, “We are not against Yale Hospital, it is a matter of us being treated fairly across the board.”

This movement in the Hill area reminds many of the 1960s movement. The newly committed freedom fighters are ready to take on the fight for their neighborhoods and good jobs. They won’t let the mighty giant Yale-New Haven Hospital break the movement.