Belden Street project helps transform neighborhood

Marilyn Graham, executive director of HOPE Inc., shows off the kitchen at 66 Belden St. in New London on Wednesday, Sept. 13. (Lee Howard/The Day)
Marilyn Graham, executive director of HOPE Inc., shows off the kitchen at 66 Belden St. in New London on Wednesday, Sept. 13. (Lee Howard/The Day)

New London — The house at 66 Belden St., which by local legend once harbored a low-key bootlegging operation, has been transformed by the affordable housing group HOPE Inc. into a comfy and attractive two-family residence that is being sold for $105,000.

HOPE Executive Director Marilyn Graham smiled as she recounted the exploits of Johnny the Bootlegger, who once warned her away from a spot on Belden Street where he believed a drug deal was going down.

Johnny, she said, was well known in the neighborhood for selling beer out of his home on Sundays to locals who, because of state blue laws at the time, couldn't purchase alcohol legally.

"You get to know all the local colorful characters when you do a few homes in the neighborhood," Graham said this week.

This is the 19th house HOPE has completed in the neighborhood, including two on West Coit Street. Another HOPE house is being completed on Moore Avenue near St. Joseph Church, and two others are in the works on Denison Avenue.

The 1,650-square-foot house, which includes a 550-square-foot apartment on the basement level that needs to be rented to someone with income below $16,000 a year, was dedicated Friday. It already has a buyer, Augusto Pastor, an employee at Roto Frank in Chester, who will be occupying the main part of the three-bedroom house with his mother, Dorila Bocangel.

The deal is expected to be completed by mid-October.

"There's no shortage of low-income people looking for rents," Graham said.

In 2015, HOPE won $500,000 in Connecticut Housing Finance Authority tax credits purchased by Eversource from the state's Housing Tax Credit Contribution program. It used the money to build a home at 24 Belden St. and renovate 66 Belden, a job completed by Eddie Fedorshak for about $214,000.

Deed restrictions required that the house be sold to a family at or below 50 percent of the area median income, or about $36,700 for a family of two. The apartment must be rented to someone at or below 25 percent of the area median income.

Graham said the home was in rough shape when HOPE purchased it in November 2014 for $38,000.

"We kept the bannister (on the main stairway), but pretty much the rest of the house was gutted," she said.

The three-family home was converted to accommodate two families, and porches on both the back and front were removed and rebuilt. The home features new appliances, new bathrooms, completely redone wiring and plumbing, plus a new heating system.

New London Landmarks dated the house to 1893, and said an Irish widow named Mary Barrett, mother of eight, was the first owner.

"Belden Street started out as an Irish neighborhood of first-time homeowners," according to a history of the house done by Mary Beth Baker. "Gradually, it became Italian. ... Later there were absentee landlords with mostly African-American and Hispanic residents."

The home was restored in part thanks to funding from the city's lead paint abatement program, which offered a $19,200 grant provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD's Healthy Homes program kicked in an additional $4,020.

Kitchens with stainless steel appliances and granite countertops were provided by city-based General Woodcraft. Each of the two residences has its own washer and dryer, along with hardwood floors and ceramic tile bathrooms and kitchens.

A beautiful multicolored lead glass window was saved and restored by the general contractor, Fedorshak. The main part of the house includes a pantry and linen closet, though upstairs bedrooms are on the small side and a next-door neighbor is under orders to clean up his trash-strewn property, which is set off from 66 Belden by an attractive vinyl fence, Graham said.

Graham said HOPE houses are in great demand, and the city has been very receptive to seeing newly renovated homes in places that were once blighted.

"The city likes it because it puts them back on the tax rolls," she said.

l.howard@theday.com

A new HOPE house was dedicated Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, at 66 Belden St. in New London. (Lee Howard/The Day)
A new HOPE house was dedicated Friday, Sept. 15, 2017, at 66 Belden St. in New London. (Lee Howard/The Day)

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