For all the lament about the poor condition of public housing, Connecticut seems to be doing its part to keep it that way.
After providing $10 million for repairs in the 17,000 apartments in state-financed public housing projects, legislators turned around and withdrew the amount that those same projects have received since 1967 to reimburse their municipalities for property taxes.
The money, which amounts to 10 percent of the total rent collected for the year, minus utilities, is typically paid directly to the municipality by the state. But the local housing authority is required to apply for it.
Not surprisingly, housing advocates protested the withdrawal of the in-lieu-of-taxes payment. Democratic legislators in turn pointed the finger at Gov. M. Jodi Rell, claiming that she eliminated the funding because cities and towns were receiving increased revenues from other sources.
However, with a veto-proof majority in both houses of the General Assembly, Democrats could and should easily restore the funding to the budget.
Without the money, more than $2 million, housing authorities that manage state-owned projects might have to increase rents dramatically. Officials in a few municipalities that don't rely heavily on public housing taxes to balance their budget are giving thought to forgiving the taxes entirely.
But those are exceptions, not the rule.
Hartford's Westbrook Village and Bowles Park complexes, the largest in the state, must pay the city a combined $510,000 in lieu of taxes, an amount that would be difficult for the city to lose.
The emergency repair funds, although far less than would properly maintain the apartments, at least acknowledged that the state has an obligation for their upkeep.
Until now, officials assumed that rent revenues alone would be enough to cover those costs. The deterioration of the housing stock has proved them wrong.
It would be sad to see some of the state's poorest tenants hit with steep rent increases after patchwork repairs.
If lawmakers are truly committed to improving conditions in state-owned public housing, they should stop giving with one hand and taking with the other.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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