Grant to make senior housing more accessible

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Naugatuck received a Small Cities Block Grant for $500,000 that will be used to update and remodel 10 senior housing units at the Oak Terrace Apartments, a 173-unit senior housing complex on Conrad Street. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — Senior housing in Naugatuck is about to become a little more accessible.

The borough has received a Small Cities Block Grant for $500,000 that will be used to update and remodel 10 senior housing units at the Oak Terrace Apartments, a 173-unit complex on Conrad Street.

After the work is finished, these units will be up to code with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Mayoral Aide Ed Carter explained that four of these units had originally been built to be handicap accessible and are being brought up to current ADA standards. The other six units were built as normal units and are being completely renovated to be brought up to ADA standards, he said.

The housing authority is not being penalized under the law for its lack of accessibility, but must bring 5 percent of its units up to code before the state or federal government will approve any grant money for other purposes. By renovating 10 units, the housing authority will achieve that, Carter said.

According to a letter from Debbie Besaw, resident services coordinator, the kitchen counters at Oak Terrace are too high and the stove and refrigerator can’t be easily accessed from a wheelchair or walker. It’s also hard for residents with disabilities to climb over the side of the bathtub, “so people are reluctant to take a bath, often risking infection,” Besaw wrote.

Current residents in handicapped units will be temporarily relocated to other apartments in the complex while upgrades are made to provide more floor space, access to cabinets, drawers and fan switches, and level entryways. Bathrooms will also receive new grab bars, according to documents from Quisenberry Arcari Architects of Farmington.

Six vacant units will be gutted so that partitions can be relocated to provide enough space, and will receive the same renovations as the occupied units.

Improvements will also be made to provide dedicated parking spaces and more accessible routes to the complex’s common areas. The vacant units will also receive energy efficiency upgrades, according to the architects.

In the community room’s kitchen, a wall will be relocated and new cabinets, a sink, appliances and lighting will be installed to comply with ADA, according to the architects.

Work should begin in the spring, after state paperwork is signed and the project is put out to bid, officials said.

The news should be welcome for many Oak Terrace residents and those on the waiting list, several of whom wrote letters expressing their desire for accessibility upgrades.

“I have been waiting for a wheelchair accessible unit for over three years,” wrote Jeff Laliberte of Cherry Street Extension. “I hope to be called for a unit as soon as they get finished.”

State Sen. Joseph Crisco (D-17) also welcomed the news of the grant.

“This seems to be a very cost-effective and creative use of public funding to help residents who require fully accessible housing by making more housing available for them,” Crisco said in a press release.

Crisco said the money that Naugatuck received was part of $10.9 million in grant money that was given out for housing improvements in 31 towns across the state.

Carter explained the grant is a competitive grant, which means each city has to apply for it with a specific project in mind.

“That’s one of the things about the projects; you have to show the needs and have to show you’re ready to go. It can’t be a pipe dream,” Carter said.

Carter said that each year the borough has a public hearing where people present ideas for projects the borough could apply for the grant with.

The Naugatuck Housing Authority came before the borough and asked if the borough would consider applying for remodeling of the Oak Terrace housing units to bring them up to ADA standards.

Since it is a private organization, the housing authority could not apply for the grant itself.

“Once we looked at the project we decided this is good project we could go forward with,” Carter said.

Now that the borough has been awarded this grant, they do not get the money in one chunk, Carter explained.

“As costs occur, we submit the costs to the state and we are reimbursed,” Carter said. “It’s kind of like an escrow account.”

This is the third project that the borough will fund with a Small Cities Block Grant, Carter said.

The borough received $420,000 grant in 2009 to fix the sidewalks along Cherry Street. In 2010 the borough received a $500,000 to fix the drainage issues on Nettleton Avenue.

“It’s decided every year by the community and the borough which projects to apply for,” Carter said.

The Republican American contributed to this article.