New London — A group of college students this summer will perform a deep dive into city land records to identify the families who lost homes during the city’s urban renewal phase.
Under the guidance of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center and with assistance from New London Landmarks, the summer interns will research the former homes located in the Winthrop Cove area of the city. Homes were demolished and roads erased from the map in the 1960s as part of the Winthrop Cove Urban Renewal Project. It is an area situated between Huntington, Water and State streets.
Fionnuala Darby-Hudgens, director of operations for the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, said the project “to clear the slums” reinforced a legacy of discriminatory housing policies that was taking place in many New England cities.
Of the estimated 667 families displaced by urban renewal projects in New London, 24% were people of color despite the fact that people of color made up just 7.8% of the population of the city at that time, research from the University of Richmond’s Renewing Inequality project shows.
“We know from oral histories that for many families who were homeowners, they were never able to access home ownership again,” Darby-Hudgens said. “We also don’t know if they received true market values for their properties or what types of homes were lost.”
In 2018, Connecticut Fair Housing Center teamed up with New London Landmarks to develop a walking tour of the former Winthrop Cove neighborhood. The project was called “Discrimination, Urban Renewal and New London’s Lost Neighborhood,” and preliminary data from the project showed the redevelopment committee had appraised homes to be demolished lower than their market value, which limited families’ ability to find a new home.
The ultimate goal of this summer’s project is to build a census of what was lost in as much detail as possible, with addresses and names of homeowners, she said.
As to what can be done with the data, Darby-Hudgens said people in the city of New London have expressed interest in doing some restorative justice work related to the people displaced by urban renewal.
“When we think of restorative justice, we think about how most Americans hold their wealth … in their homes,” Darby-Hudgens said. “We have denied the ability to build wealth for people of color for decades. Restorative justice work is really looking at … how do we return it to them?”
Restorative justice could come in the form of “intentional investments in communities of color and the families deeply impacted by discriminatory practices,” she said. A decision on investments or compensation for families would be the decision of the city, she said.
The City Council last month approved a memorandum of understanding with the Connecticut Fair Housing Center to provide stipends to the interns but has not allocated money beyond that.
Darby-Hudgens said she expects that the city and Connecticut College would each provide up to three interns for the project, which will start with title searches and assessor records.
“It’s really exciting. New London could stand to be a national model about how we do restorative justice work. It’s literally shifting the paradigm,” she said.