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Blight Plagues New Britain

by Kyle Flynn

The North Oak section of New Britain generates around 50 percent of blight-related complaints, making it the most heavily affected area in the city, according to the Neighborhood Revitalization Zone.

While Oak Street in New Britain is one of the major contributors to blight in the city, many inhabitants seem enthusiastic about its revival.

Street crime and gang violence, roughly a quarter of a century ago, has left a lasting reputation that no longer reflects the personality of the neighborhood.

Although one of Oak Street’s very own, Jacinto Romales, mentioned that there is still a drug problem in the area, mostly taking place during the night time, a lot of the danger is largely gone.

Romales is a member of Make the Road New York, which builds the power of immigrant and working-class communities to achieve dignity and justice. He is also the neighbor of 132 Oak Street, a three story apartment building that was built in 1895. The six-unit brick building is decorated with boarded windows and adds a look of lifelessness to the neighborhood.

Romales has carried the ideals of his organization with him to Connecticut from Brooklyn, along with plans of purchasing the property. Romales goal to become the buyer is likely not going to come to fruition, as Flip It LLC, owned by Daniel Czyzewski of Newington, CT, purchased the building during October of 2017.

The property has undergone significant improvements over the last several weeks, and Flip It has even purchased another house on Oak Street since.

People from the neighborhood who attended the recent NRZ meeting made clear that they wished it were rather Oak Street’s very own residents purchasing property for sale on the street, but it is more important to them that somebody come in and make a real difference.

“You have a lot of people who take pride in their homes, planting gardens and trees, and then you have the multi-family homes where people are coming in and out and they don’t really care about them,” New Britain Police Sergeant Art Powers said of the blight issue in the area.

“Landlords come in from out of state and buy houses and never see them again, so you never know who may be moving in there,” Powers continued. “They’re trying. Little by little, they are trying to rebuild”.

People like Orlando Santana—the owner of 258 Oak Street which was on New Britain’s list of blighted houses—are trying to make the best of their properties.

“I had the porch enclosed and the city wanted a permit, so I took it down. I didn’t change the structure at all and it actually looked better like that. The reason I did it was so that the wood [and my packages] wouldn’t get wet and it would last longer,” Santana said as he explained why he received a violation.

“They’re gonna complain about people with blighted property, but then the people that try to fix it they’re gonna get on them for little stuff. I’ve lived here since ‘05 and everywhere I have lived, I always improve the property.”

Empty lots of land like the one for sale on the corner of Oak and Lasalle Street can provide a great opportunity to make a difference in the neighborhood if it is in the hands of people who will account for the best interest of the city in the bigger picture.

It is not just the buildings that need work on Oak Street. The street, which is heavily traveled by residents, workers and the city bus has not been paved since 1999. The road is filled with ruts and potholes and looks like it is about time for a fix.

Local residents are upset because New Britain has spent nearly $100 million on improving schools, parks and roads, according to the New Britain Herald. Still, no improvements have been made to the sections of the city that they consider to be the biggest problems.

In 2017, New Britain was one of 14 municipalities selected to receive a portion of $13.6 million in state-funded grants to combat blight across Connecticut. New Britain was to be awarded at least $1.5 million of those funds.

CCSU’s Office of Community Engagement and the North-Oak NRZ are working together to offer multiple community clean-ups, including one on April 21 around the neighborhood, as the corner where Oak and North meet is littered with trash and even had a shopping cart abandoned on the side of the road.

The New Britain Police Department, New Britain Common Council, many local churches and other organizations were all apart of the volunteer day.

With a few nice businesses occupying Oak Street, including a deli and a mini-mart, and the help of local volunteers and neighbors alike, hopefully, there can be a shift in momentum that can return the neighborhood to the thriving residential area it once was.

“[New Britain] was once the hardware city of the world. They had rockets protecting the city during [World War II]. It was an amazing place,” Powers said.