The overarching goal of this project, the brainchild of developer Tony Silvestri, is quite simply “the complete transformation of a neighborhood.”
A neighborhood pockmarked with foreclosed properties, abandoned buildings and badly dilapidated houses with no long-term tenants, and in one case, a historic home badly damaged by arson and then abandoned, was at the center of Tony Silvestri’s audacious goal to construct a large-scale housing restoration project that would provide opportunity and stability in the heart of downtown New London.
2016 CT MAIN STREET PROPERTY OWNER OF THE YEAR
Sponsored by Colliers International
Tony Silvestri, Developer & Property Manager, New London’s City Flats
No stranger to development, Tony Silvestri’s New London Harbour Towers, a 52-unit luxury condo building, completed in 2010 on New London’s Bank Street abuts the neighborhood. Harbour Towers units, priced from $250,000 to $600,000 were drawing new, relatively affluent residents into New London from the suburbs; buyers were often older, looking to downsize but seeking high-end amenities like the Tower’s indoor pool and private parking garage, as well as access to downtown’s restaurants, vibrant and growing arts scene, and its historic sites and waterfront park, with train and ferry service.
But Silvestri and the Tagliatela family, New Haven developers who financed the building of the condo complex, found that the streets behind their new building provided challenges to their being able to sell some of their units. The blighted residences nearby were in stark contrast to the beautiful new Harbour Towers, and the units facing away from Bank Street overlooked some very troubled properties.
The idea for City Flats was born. If Harbour Towers’ developers could acquire the nearby properties and cost-effectively renovate and upgrade them, then sell them so that the neighborhood was populated by moderate and middle income homeowners, the area could be transformed.
Creating Housing that is Affordable to Residents
To date, the developers have acquired nine properties, and full renovation of six of those is complete, with work on the other three in progress. The nine acquired buildings comprise a total of 35 condo units, most of which are 2 bedroom/1 bathroom homes. As of May 6, 2016 fourteen condos have been sold or are under deposit.
According to Tony Silvestri, City Flats is “not affordable housing, but rather housing that is affordable.” He describes the project as the “opposite of gentrification,” noting that not one resident has been displaced during this process, and that the $900 average monthly expense (inclusive of principle, interest, taxes, and association fees) to own one of the new condo units is less than the cost to rent an apartment in the previously neglected buildings. Owners of the new condo units are purchasing fully-renovated homes, including roofs, siding, energy-efficient windows, heating, electrical, and plumbing systems, and no-maintenance landscaping – and the neighborhood benefits from a new sense of pride of ownership.
Reaching Out to the Community
From the beginning, the developers kept all neighborhood residents informed of their plans; Silvestri and his team employed creative attempts at outreach, including a neighborhood picnic in the open space behind Harbour Towers; flyers promoting the project printed in both English and Spanish; and holding “Walk The Block” events, where the community was invited to tour the surrounding streets and hear the developers explain their vision.
City Flats is economically feasible because the developers have taken advantage of Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credits. The company is also responsible for expanding the historic district so the City Flats neighborhood could take advantage of these credits. Also, the properties are within a New London Enterprise Zone, which enables buyers to take advantage of a 7-year graduated tax adjustment. Qualified lower-income buyers are also eligible for Department of Housing interest-free revolving loans and down payment assistance grants.
The Results – Increased Property Values and the Pride of Homeownership
It is estimated that the tax benefit to the City, based on the extensive renovations leading to the increased property value, plus the conversion of rental units to owner-occupied condos, is a 30% increase.
There are approximately 100 residential units in the newly expanded historic district: owners of all of these properties are eligible to take advantage of the historic rehabilitation tax credits. Tony Silvestri hopes that owners who choose to not sell their properties to City Flats can be encouraged by the groundwork laid to make improvements to their own properties, as they see the renovation work progress and new homeowners move into the neighborhood.
Tony Silvestri and his team at City Flats found a way to completely rehabilitate older housing stock that has been allowed to deteriorate for decades. They have written a new “rule book” and have put processes and creative solutions in place; and they are willing to share what they have learned.