Legislative Committee Discusses Need For Major Makeovers At State's Public Housing
February 24, 2007
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Writer
Rose Price sat before a panel of legislators and told them what it was like to live at her place. Mildew growing in her bedroom closet makes it hard for her to breathe, and it won't go away no matter how many times she cleans it.
This, Price said, "is a matter of life and death for the residents of state public housing."
What would otherwise be a problem for a private landlord is a public problem because Price's apartment is in Bowles Park in Hartford - a long-neglected, state-financed public housing complex that is one of more than 250 across the state. Together, they need almost a half billion dollars to fix the roofs, keep out the rodents, get rid of lead paint and make the mildew go away.
As housing costs rise and state-owned public housing complexes deteriorate, the legislature's select committee on housing met in Hartford Friday to discuss proposals to fund repairs and to create more affordable housing statewide.
House Speaker James Amann is spearheading an effort to create a state program that could be used to pay for repairs at the complexes it finances. He wouldn't commit to an amount to be dedicated to the program, but $50 million to $100 million didn't sound unreasonable, he said.
Much of the state's public housing was built as moderate rental housing that - unlike subsidized federal housing - was intended to pay for itself from the rents that its residents paid.
But as units got run down and public housing became less desirable, the rents couldn't keep up with the expenses the complexes demanded.
"These units are getting older and older, and they need more than TLC," Amann, D-Milford, told the committee. "They need help."
Bowles Park and Westbrook Village - two Hartford housing developments - are under consideration for a multimillion dollar overhaul. But that process won't produce results for several years, and something needs to be done to protect the residents who live there now, said committee Co-Chairman Kenneth P. Green, D-Hartford.
"I'm very much interested in shaping the speaker's bill into something we should be doing immediately," Green said Friday.
Also discussed Friday was a bill designed to encourage towns and cities to work with developers to create more affordable housing.
The state already has affordable housing laws on the books that advocates say are valuable tools but that critics say make it easy for developers to muscle municipalities into denser housing complexes that bring increased costs.
Several bills have been introduced this year to repeal state affordable housing statutes, but a bill produced by a coalition called HOMEConnecticut is an effort intended to supplement them.
The bill is an initiative of the Partnership for Strong Communities and is the product of more than a year of study among a broad-based coalition of developers, housing advocates, Realtors, municipal officials, politicians and bankers. Together, they've created a plan that would provide state money to municipalities that voluntarily work with developers to create affordable housing.
"The state of Connecticut is not producing enough housing for the workers our businesses need to grow the economy," said William J. Cibes, chancellor emeritus of Connecticut State University and chairman of the steering committee that produced the legislation.
The program, the bill's backers say, would at a minimum break even; it may well generate more revenue for the state in the form of sales and other taxes.
"It will create a windfall for the economy for the state budget in the outlying years," said Bill Ethier of the Home Builders Association of Connecticut. "But more importantly it will be a windfall for people who want to find a home."
Green said the HOMEConnecticut bill is a good but complicated one that will likely need more discussion than could be completed this session.
"It definitely needs to move forward," Green said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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