Lawyer seeks grant money for NL agency he is suing

New London - The New London Housing Authority has found an unlikely ally in its mission to improve living conditions at the Thames River Apartments on Crystal Avenue.

Attorney Robert I. Reardon, who is heading up a class-action lawsuit against the authority, is trying to help obtain a federal grant that could lead to the development of new housing for the low-income families that live at Thames River.

"Many opportunities for federal funding to replace this housing have been missed or lost in the past 20 years due to poor management of this Housing Authority,'' Reardon wrote to Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Congressman Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, asking for help in securing the grants. "As a result these forty-year-old buildings have continued to age and deteriorate, allowing these apartments to become a high crime area for the City of New London.''

Reardon, who is representing residents at no charge in a 2005 lawsuit, said his objective is to come up with a long-term plan to find alternative housing for the tenants and to ultimately tear down the high-rise buildings.

The authority, at Reardon's urging, applied for a Choice Neighborhoods Program grant, distributed through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The authority is seeking $200,000 to $250,000 for a planning grant to hire experts to study the 124-unit apartment complex and recommend how to improve living conditions for the more than 300 people who live there.

"We all see the need, something needs to be done,'' said Sue Shontell, executive director of the housing authority.

If there is a recommendation to raze the three high-rises, it will cost millions to find new homes for the tenants, to tear down the cinderblock structures and to replace them with modern buildings.

The HUD application, which was submitted in December, is among 118 requests for $65 million in aid to improve distressed neighborhoods and public housing. Up to $3 million will be distributed as planning grants.

HUD has made no decisions on distributions of the money.

Shontell said information from a study of the buildings and proposed alternatives would be brought to the authority for consideration.

"This would give me a chance to say what's the best thing to do,'' she said.

The housing authority has been on HUD's list of "troubled agencies" since 1998 and last year was told by HUD that an outside agency would be needed to manage the authority. But in June, HUD relented on the order to hire an outside manager after reviewing the housing authority's efforts to correct its shortcomings, which included new accounting procedures, paying down more than $1 million in debt, and a federal inspection at Thames River that showed an improvement in living conditions there.

In 2004, HUD rejected a similar application from the New London Housing Authority for a grant to tear down the Thames River Apartments.

The city had requested roughly $2 million from the federal Hope VI grant program, which provides money to revitalize or tear down public housing. That rejection was expected, as HUD had not approved the city's demolition plan by the Hope VI application deadline.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

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