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Yale Offers Its Employees Bonuses to Live Nearby in Bid to Halt Creeping Blight

July 31, 1994|DENISE LAVOIE | ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — With urban blight creeping ever closer to its ivy-covered walls, Yale University has turned to cold cash to entice middle-class employees into settling down in New Haven.

The Ivy League school is offering up to $20,000, or $2,000 a year over 10 years, as an incentive to buy a home in the city.

"Our continued strength and the city's strength are very much linked," said Yale Secretary Linda K. Lorimer, one of the university's top officers.

It's an approach that has been tried by some other urban universities. The University of Chicago, for example, offers a second-mortgage program to faculty and senior staff who buy homes in a 1 1/4-square-mile area near campus.

Only blocks from Yale's Gothic buildings and spires sit decaying neighborhoods where drug dealers ply their trade from graffiti-covered houses. A block from the towering Yale gymnasium known as the "Temple of Sweat," squatters have moved into some of the boarded-up homes on Fraternity Row.

Many middle-class families who once lived near Yale have fled to the suburbs to escape the high crime rate and high property taxes and to send their children to better schools.

Only about a third of Yale's 10,000 employees live in New Haven. About 20% of the city's 130,000 residents live in poverty. Renters outnumber homeowners, 2 to 1.

Yale's offer, good until 1996, was met with some skepticism after it was announced in April.

"Anywhere away from here," said Dee Dee Emery, a food service worker who rents an apartment in the city. Last year, her 15-year-old son was fatally shot on city streets, she said, declining to elaborate.

Still, there have been more than 150 inquiries, and 15 employees have been approved, including clerks and low-level administrators.

"It's a brilliantly thought-out plan, one that is designed to guide people to the type of middle-level housing found near the campus," said Douglas Rae, a political science professor and New Haven resident who served as the city's chief administrator in 1990 and 1991.

"Let's face it, $2,000 a year is not going to have much appeal for some faculty member with a six-figure income, but it will mean a lot to a $31,000-a-year middle manager," Rae said.

The subsidy made the decision to move to New Haven easier for Jill Schneider, who already was thinking about moving from suburban North Haven to be closer to city arts and cultural events. She recently closed a deal for a condominium in New Haven.

"It basically pays for the difference in taxes between living in the city and living in the suburbs," said Schneider, a business manager at Yale Medical School. "I think it's a great way to draw people into the city."

Jacquelyn Accettullo, a financial analyst at Yale, left the city and bought a house in North Haven last year when her oldest child reached school age. She refused to send her kids to New Haven schools.

"We laughed when we saw it because we said, 'What would you use the $2,000 for?' You could use it to pay for private school for your kids or pay for the taxes, which are exorbitant," she said.

In recent years, the city has had to cut back on services even as property taxes have soared. Property taxes last year on a home with an assessed value of $125,000 would have been $4,473 in New Haven and $2,874 in North Haven.

Yale has also committed $14.5 million for downtown improvements, including a major new apartment and retail complex. But the last department store abandoned New Haven last year.

"Home ownership is always a stabilizing factor in the neighborhoods," said Mayor John DeStefano, who strongly endorses the new Yale program.

"I think the connection of living and working in the same community creates a feeling of empowerment. It knits the city together."

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