The hot sun was beating down on the muddy grounds where Gov. Dannel P. Malloy led state and town officials in the groundbreaking of The Heights at Darien, a redevelopment for 106 affordable housing units on Allen O'Neill Drive that entered its first phase Monday at 11 a.m.
"This commitment that Darien is now living and seeing through is greatly appreciated," Malloy said, adding to the many thanks given at the ceremony that followed the groundbreaking.
Malloy noted the state's nearly $500 million investment in affordable housing slated to take place over the next 10 years, which he said will raise the bar for other states's housing investments. It's also part of "a large commitment to building housing that has services in it," he said, acknowledging people who are "elderly, disabled or, quite frankly, down on their luck."
Cynthia Ashburne, chairman of the Darien Housing Authority, said this day was a dream come true, naming the many town governing bodies who helped move this project forward. She didn't forget the residents of the former Allen O'Neill homes.
"You worked with us and gave us valuable input," Ashburne said of the residents.
Arthur Anderson, a partner in the project, summed up the help of all contributors to this project when he said, "It's clear to me it takes a village to rebuild a village."
Several speakers also praised Anderson for his contributions to this project. Former Housing Authority chairman Jenny Schwartz said, "The residents were always a priority to Arthur, as they were to the Housing Authority."
Schwartz also recalled the history of the site, where the Fitch Home for Soldiers and Their Orphans originally stood.
"Benjamin Fitch was clearly a visionary of affordable housing," she said of the man who established the first veteran's home in the U.S. in 1864.
The veterans home has since moved to Rocky Hill, and the Fitch Home was moved across the street to house the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6933. This allowed for Allen O'Neill housing to take its place.
"While rich in history," she said, "this site is first and foremost for affordable housing."
The project is financed by many investors, according to Schwartz. These include the Department of Economic and Community Development, the Darien Housing Authority, Anderson and other private investors.
Bill Mills, Chief Executive Officer for Citigroup North America, spoke on behalf of Citigroup's investment in the project, saying his company is always looking for responsible investments, and this one was significant.
"This is the largest finance in affordable housing," Mills said. "We are absolutely delighted in being a financial partner."
U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., who also attended the groundbreaking, shed light on the project from a political perspective, pointing out that the project started under a Democratic first selectman and continues under a Republican.
"This is a testament of what you can do when working together," Himes said.
Darien First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said, "It's been a long time coming and I'm happy to be here and to be with everyone celebrating."
State Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, agreed, telling the audience he walked the grounds in 2005 when the project was still just a vision.
"It seemed like the right thing to do," Duff said.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he was also fortunate to spend time in the Allen O'Neill community and got to know its residents.
"They brought me in their homes. I got to know them personally," Blumenthal said. "So, when you talk about affordable housing, it's not just numbers. They're people."
"We can only build houses," he said. "They make homes within them."
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