Affordable housing advocates in Connecticut won several advances for the rights of the state’s public housing residents in June. The Public Housing Resident Network (PHRN) and the Connecticut Housing Coalition, an NLIHC state coalition partner, advocated for three pro-tenant bills this legislative session. Two of the bills passed in both the House and the Senate, and advocates expect Governor Dannel Malloy (D) to sign both. The third bill did not pass, but is being addressed administratively by Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD).
The first bill, H.B. 6461, gives residents of public housing the right to elect the tenant commissioner who represents them on the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners. The Board, which typically consists of five commissioners, includes one seat for a public housing tenant. Presently, the position is filled by mayoral appointment. H.B. 6461 was passed by the House in May and by the Senate on June 8.
S.B. 1076 requires resident participation in proposed plans for disposition and revitalization of state-operated public housing developments. (Connecticut is one of the few states that has its own public housing.) It also passed both houses. Existing law required public hearings on disposition and revitalization proposals, but advocates say that it has been difficult to ensure consideration of residents’ perspectives. S.B. 1076 requires the housing authority, any developer undertaking renovations or redevelopment, and any prospective owner to enter into an agreement with the development’s tenant organization. The agreement must outline the process and requirements for bona fide resident participation. Redevelopment and disposition plans will not be eligible for funding from DECD or the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority until such a plan has been adopted.
The third bill, S.B. 1075, would have required DECD to adopt regulations to establish grievance procedures for public housing residents. A law granting residents the right to a grievance procedure has existed for twenty years, but DECD never developed regulations. S.B. 1075 passed in the Senate, but was not taken up by the House. Despite the fact that the bill was not ultimately passed, DECD has committed to develop and adopt regulations before the start of the next legislative session.
Advocates say they went into this year in the spirit of negotiation, which lent to their success. Last year, a bill granting residents the right to elect the tenant commissioner passed both houses, but was vetoed by then-Governor Jodi Rell (R). PHRN and Connecticut Housing Coalition were discouraged, but regrouped and pushed for the bill to be introduced again. “At the beginning of the year, we met with the co-chairs of the Housing Committee to explain why these measures were important, and we sat down with last year’s opponents in order to learn about their concerns,” said Betsy Crum, Executive Director of the Connecticut Housing Coalition. “We didn’t completely erase opposition, but it was mitigated, and we demonstrated to legislators that we were willing to compromise. That made a big difference.”
Also critical, according to Crum, was the fact that residents advocated for themselves. “What we were saying is that we want to be at the table. Residents want a voice,” said Daisy Franklin, a board member of PHRN and NLIHC. “They spoke with one voice,” said Crum. “They were really active. They wrote letters, they met with their legislators, and they had a united message.”
Advocates in Connecticut say they hope other states are able to follow their lead. “It’s critical for public housing residents to have a say in what happens with our housing,” said Franklin. Crum agreed, saying “public housing tenants are sometimes perceived as being passive, and not invested in their homes and their communities. This absolutely turns that stereotype on its head.”
For more information, contact Betsy Crum at firstname.lastname@example.org.