A Better World is Possible

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A luxury apartment building is in the works in downtown New Britain. Local government and media present this as a good thing that will improve the community, but the fact is this is just further gentrification of a city home to many poor people.

by Princess Patoine

It’s no secret that society hates poor people. We are ignored, pushed aside, mocked, and driven out of our communities to free space for wealthier individuals. Time and time again impoverished cities and towns are given a “make-over” under the guise of trying to improve life for residents, but the truth is that these changes are made to attract wealthy (mostly white) people.

Private Developer Seeks to Further Gentrify New Britain | Connecticut DSA | A luxury apartment building is in the works in downtown New Britain. Local government and media present this as a good thing that will improve the community, but the fact is this is just further gentrification of a city home to many poor people.
Avner Krohn speaking at the groundbreaking.

At a groundbreaking ceremony in downtown New Britain on Tuesday, October 5, 2021, chairman and CEO of Jasko Development, Avner Krohn, unveiled his plans to build a lavish apartment building that will stretch up Main Street and along Bank Street. The building—tragically dubbed “The Brit”—contains six stories, over 100 apartment units, and is set to cost between 15 to 20 million dollars. According to the Hartford Courant, it will be marketed to young tenants who are seeking “amenities and flair”. These amenities include a first-floor restaurant with outdoor seating, further outdoor dining space along the edges of the building, a 5,000-square-foot open-air courtyard with space for tenants to grill and have picnics, and a 5th floor terrace. Krohn says that the CTfastrak located nearby will aid in attracting tenants, and envisions most of them being 20 to 30-year-olds “seeking homes with a sense of community and energy”.

Downtown District Executive Director Gerry Amodio said, “This project will ultimately produce over $2 million in taxes and local spending per year because everybody who lives in this building will spend about 40 percent of their disposable income within a mile to two miles.” As a lifelong resident of New Britain, my first thought is: Who can afford this? Who has that much disposable income in a city with a poverty rate around 21.7%? The answer to that is wealthier, and most likely white, folk who either hear about “The Brit”, or catch a glimpse of the ostentatious building while passing through. These people are the target audience, not the mostly poor people who live here and are struggling just to make ends meet. Not families, like mine, who rely on food stamps and Section Eight to remain housed and fed. No, this isn’t for people like us. This isn’t about the community. This is about money, and “cleaning up” the city of the impoverished. This is gentrification.

Private Developer Seeks to Further Gentrify New Britain | Connecticut DSA | A luxury apartment building is in the works in downtown New Britain. Local government and media present this as a good thing that will improve the community, but the fact is this is just further gentrification of a city home to many poor people.
Avner Krohn and New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart.

Unsurprisingly, Mayor Erin Stewart—who works closely with Krohn—fully supports this project. In the Hartford Courant she states Jasko is the kind of developer the city wants to work with, since they’ve been active in the city for 15 years and have a track record of quality projects. She went on to say, “Developers come and go, they buy properties, they sell them five years later, they make their money and leave. There’s something to be said for someone who genuinely cares about a community and chooses to stay there.” The problem with this is developers like Jasko don’t care about the community, just the money they can make from it. They keep coming back because city officials keep wanting to build and reconstruct buildings, not because they want to help the residents out.

Jasko Development is a privately-owned real estate company based in downtown New Britain. According to their website they are “focused on developing, owning, and managing a diverse portfolio of properties throughout the Northeast”. They also claim to be “trailblazers in the development of build-to-suit retail, turnkey healthcare, multifamily, commercial and historic/mixed-use facilities”. They have worked on a number of projects in Connecticut and New York, where CEO Avner Krohn lives. Another article from the Hartford Courant states that Krohn has no relatives or family business in CT, and still resides in Long Island. He says he spends more time here than he does at home. One could interpret this as him being passionate about his work and helping out communities, but simply scratch the surface, and that façade starts to fall away.

Krohn’s bio on the Jasko website says that he has a track record of civic engagement, having “[served] many years on downtown development boards and streetscape committees”. “Civic engagement” here is used to mean “community involvement”, however it really means “government involvement”. A developer serving on a zoning board or any government entity that decides what gets built where, is a huge conflict of interest.

It also says he “[advised] municipal officials of the benefits and logistics of Tax Increment Financing”. Tax Increment Financing (TIF) is, to put it simply, a tool local governments use to finance qualifying developments or redevelopments using taxpayer money. This often leads to increases in real-estate value, which causes the cost of living to go up, and makes it so people in the “project area” can’t afford to live there anymore and are forced to relocate. This creates opportunity for more gentrification, more displacement, and the cycle repeats. To make matters even worse, legally, if the local government wanted to, they could claim that certain buildings don’t fit within the development plan. They could then evict residents and condemn their homes, as was the case with Kelo v. City of New London. Construction of “The Brit” is being paid for using TIF, as authorized by Mayor Erin Stewart on behalf of the city.

In the Hartford Courant article mentioned above, it’s stated that Krohn is “serious about making [his projects] profitable”. He himself says, “I’m numbers-driven, too. As many times as towns have great ideas, if the economics don’t work then they don’t work.” He continues, “As much as I have a vision and a plan, I always start with the numbers.” The article goes on to say that when a community hesitates, he walks away.

As of November 2021, Krohn’s plan is to finish “The Brit” by fall 2022 and to build 400 more buildings and 20,000 square feet of retail space within the next 36 to 48 months. He says, “Right now we’re in development or pre-development for over 700 units. I wouldn’t be surprised if in eight weeks from now that gets up to 1,000. It’s not wild or eccentric. I know exactly what we’re doing, what we’re building, why we’re doing it.”

What they’re doing is attempting to completely recreate the city. The Hartford Business Journal quotes Krohn: “We’re looking at it as a blank canvas and we’re saying, ‘How do we create the new New Britain?’ I’m thinking about, ‘How do I make this city a better place?’ Mayor Stewart and city officials understand it’s a long-term vision. As a developer, you want to piggyback on the fact that you have a mayor and officials who understand your vision.” Apparently, his idea of making the city a better place includes building a grossly expensive apartment complex to bring in wealthy outsiders, paying for it with taxpayer money, and raising property taxes. All the while having the mayor and other city officials in his back pocket, patting him on the back and enabling him with his “vision” to essentially take over most of the city.

He claims to care about the communities he occupies, but his actions and his own words prove otherwise. What have Jasko and Avner Krohn done for New Britain—or any other community—out of the kindness of their hearts? What have they done other than help gentrify poor cities and line their pockets? This “urban oasis”, as Krohn called it, is just another cash grab and attempt to drive out what people like him consider to be the “real” eyesores: poor people.

I am not an expert on this topic, I am simply a New Britain resident, and tenant, speaking out about the construction of this unnecessary and disgustingly overpriced apartment building. I do not know how to prevent this from happening, but I do know we need to push back. A great start to this would be to talk to people within the community and have them address their issues and concerns with this project. A group has more influence than an individual. Maybe have meetings every week to discuss your next moves, or, if possible, join a tenant’s union. Another good idea is to reach out to our elected officials like Mayor Erin Stewart and demand that a certain amount of units in these new buildings (or even whole buildings themselves) be used for affordable housing or encourage them to support community land trusts. This is not an exhaustive list, but should these steps be taken, we could get the ball rolling on ensuring that these new buildings will be useful to the existing residents of New Britain.

We as a community should not let our officials and wealthy outsiders steamroll us. This is our city, our home, and if we don’t nip this in the bud eventually we will be drained of what little money most of us have, and displaced. Maybe not next year, maybe not in the next five years, but if things keep going the way they are it will happen sooner than we think and we’ll be blindsided. Let’s take back our power, take back our city.