The Publicly Assisted Housing Resident Network of Connecticut (PHRN), an NLIHC member, is successfully engaging and educating public housing residents throughout the state to understand and exercise new hard-earned tenants’ rights. PHRN is assisted by the Connecticut Housing Coalition (CHC), an NLIHC state coalition partner.
PHRN developed and is now conducting a peer training program in response to two important new statutes long advocated for by CHC and PHRN. In 2011, Governor Dannel Malloy (D) signed two bills into law that significantly increased tenants’ rights and role in the planning and decision-making processes of housing authorities. The first (H.B. 6461) gave residents of public housing the right to elect the tenant commissioner who represents them on their housing authority’s Board of Commissioners. The second (S.B. 1076) required resident participation in proposed plans for disposition and revitalization of public housing developments (see Memo, 7/1/11).
Passage of the bills represented major victories for PHRN and CHC, but PHRN leaders realized they needed to ensure that public housing residents understood their new rights and learned how best to take advantage of them. In 2014, PHRN spent three months developing two peer-to-peer training sessions and began to roll them out to public housing residents throughout the state. The first training covers the role of a housing authority’s Board of Commissioners and the residents’ right to elect a tenant commissioner. This training highlights the tenant commissioner eligibility standards and position responsibilities, as well as the steps tenants can take to elect their representative. The second training educates residents about their participation rights under the statute requiring any public housing rehabilitation, disposition, or demolition to have a resident participation plan.
“Getting the bills passed was an important step, but for this to really have an effect, people need to know about their rights,” said Daisy Franklin, Vice President of PHRN and an NLIHC board member. “Without the trainings, a lot of people wouldn’t know about the participation requirement and what it can mean for them. They have a true voice in revitalization now, but they have to speak up. They have to take this seat at the table,” said Franklin.
PHRN leaders have conducted trainings for residents of individual public housing properties as well as longer, more in-depth regional trainings that bring tenants from different developments together, making connections and deepening PHRN’s base. “People come together and get engaged and connected with PHRN through the trainings. If we face issues like a budget crisis down the road, PHRN has more people ready to mobilize on a larger campaign,” said Kim McLaughlin, CHC’s Director of Organizing.
In many cases, Franklin said, PHRN conducts trainings in public housing developments where existing tenant councils have become ineffective or no longer exist. Connecting with PHRN and learning about their rights, tenant councils often become reinvigorated and reengaged. “When you start to see a community that wasn’t functioning get together and understand why they need to be involved, that’s a real reward,” Franklin said.