Tenants, Advocates Call Malloy's $330 Million Housing Upgrade Plan A Long Time Coming
Spending Over 10 Years Would Total A Half-Billion Dollars
By KENNETH R. GOSSELIN
February 03, 2012
The governor's plan to borrow more than $300 million over the next decade for public and subsidized housing raised hopes Thursday that rundown complexes such as Bowles Park in Hartford might get a second chance.
"This is what we need," June Downer, president of the Bowles Park Tenants Association, said. "We've had trouble keeping up the grounds, fixing the insides of apartments. Some of them are downright falling apart."
For years, Downer has been pressing for repairs: holes in apartment ceilings and walls; leaking plumbing in bathrooms and kitchens; and the stench that often wafts up from the basement.
"The smell hits you like a two-by-four," Downer said.
Deteriorating low- and moderate-income housing across the state — some in such bad shape that they can't be lived in — could get much needed renovations under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's proposal.
The plan, which would require legislative and state bond commission approval, calls for $330 million in bonding over the next 10 years to renovate existing housing and boost new construction, expanding on a commitment of $130 million last year. Together, the funds would provide nearly $500 million over the next decade.
How the funds would be divided up across the state would be decided later, if Malloy's proposal is backed by the General Assembly. Democrat legislative leaders gave the plan a quick nod.
Malloy said the state has languished in its support of lower-cost, public and subsidized housing over the last 20 years.
"As many studies have shown, every dollar spent on affordable housing generates multiple times the amount of private economic activity," Malloy said. "Housing is going to be a key component of our success to get Connecticut moving again."
The proposal includes an increase of $30 million in bonding for each of the next ten years for public housing to make deteriorated and vacant units liveable again; another $20 million for new projects; another $12.5 million to revitalize housing for the elderly; and $1.5 million for rental assistance programs.
It is estimated that the housing initiative would create or retain 6,700 construction and other related jobs.
Malloy also is proposing a reorganization of the state's housing agencies in a new state Office of Housing within the state Department of Economic and Community Development to pull together the state efforts to promote housing options.
The proposal was hailed by housing advocates Thursday who are pressing for more housing for residents of more modest means who are priced out of market-rate apartments and houses.
"It's very, very significant," said David Fink, policy director for The Partnership for Strong Communities, which seeks to end homelessness and expand options for housing. "Housing advocates have been saying for a long time that you need not only to create new affordable units but preserve what you already have."
Of the proposal, Fink added: "It's amazing and a long time coming."
Downer couldn't agree more. She's lived in Bowles Park, a 410-unit complex of two-story, garden-style apartments, for nearly 40 years, the last 24 in her current, 2-bedroom apartment.
Bowles Park wasn't always rundown as it is today, Downer said. She remembers a time when there were neatly trimmed hedges and flower gardens at front and back doors.
"Some people still try to keep it up, but it's hard," Downer said.
Downer said she is worried about the structural soundness of the brick buildings. Her own windows don't open and close as well as they once did, and she suspects the buildings are shifting. She also is concerned that leaking plumbing is leading to problems with mold behind bathroom walls.
Downer said the neighborhood has had its share of problems with drugs and vandalism over the years. She could have moved any number of times over the years.
"It's home here," Downer said. "I've been here so long. If you uprooted me, I'd have a heart attack."
Under Thursday's overcast skies, Bowles Park looked particularly empty. Some buildings had signs taped to them that they are "unfit for human occupany." Other buildings are boarded-up, and some are splashed with grafitti. Downer said the vacant buildings have been stripped of their plumbing.
Across the street from her apartment, there is a building with 12 apartments and just one tenant.
"It's like an abandoned city," Downer said. "A real ghost town."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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