I-TEAM: City of Hartford funding $2 million in program to help solve landlord-tenant housing problems
HARTFORD, Conn. (WFSB) - Hartford City officials want tenants, fighting for better living conditions, to know they hear you.
On Wednesday, the Mayor announced the city has now put aside almost $2 million to fund programs they say “will improve rental housing conditions.” THE GOAL:
Mayor Luke Bronin and the City Council say, “the goal is provide a space that’s worthy of the tenants that live there.”
For months, they’ve heard tenants tell them about living in dirty and sometimes dangerous apartment buildings.
“We have some buildings where the conditions are atrocious,” says Mayor Bronin. “I think everyone knows, throughout this city, we have many property owners and many landlords who do right by their tenants. But we have landlords and property owners who do not, who do not maintain their housing to the standard it needs to be maintained at, who do not provide a safe, sanitary healthy living environment for their tenants.”
Now tenants are seeing some action, though they wish it came sooner. “It took a long time to ever get here,” said one tenant with the CT Tenants Union. She says they’ve been asking for more housing inspectors for more than a year.
“This resolution came from a long, long fight from community members and tenants,” says Teresa Quintana with Make the Road CT, who works in collaboration with the CT Tenants Union.
ADDING HOUSING/CODE ENFORCEMENT INSPECTORS:
The City announced Wednesday, they plan to hire two new housing inspectors, and two administrative assistants to help with code enforcement and the Rental Licensing Program, funded by $200,000 in Municipal Revenue Sharing Account funds.
“Make sure we get more folks out there doing the work of inspecting the units and then doing the work of following up and making sure that corrective measures that need to be taken, and then if they’re not taken, that we use every tool we’ve got to hold property owners accountable,” says Mayor Bronin.
Tenants would like the inspectors to get better at communicating with them, they say often inspectors show up without first contacting them, and they may be at work. They want updates on where the work stands, as well.
“They have no communication with us at all, just with the landlords. That’s an issue,” they say.
EMERGENCY REPAIR FUND:
A one million dollar emergency assistance fund has also been created, which will allow the city to get in and do repair work themselves. The money is coming from the American Rescue Plan Act and MRSA funds. “This will be for the worst situations particularly where there are families with children or seniors or those who are disabled living in housing conditions that represent a threat to their health or safety of such severity, that we may otherwise close that building down,” says Mayor Bronin. The landlord will pay back the repair costs in their next city tax bill.
But one tenant, who did not want to share her name for fear or retaliation, did want city officials to be aware that the costs may still trickle down to them. “They are going to try to raise our rent to cover those expenses too, that’s what has been happening,” she said. MONEY FOR FREE LEGAL ASSISTANCE: Finally, the city announced $750,000 over the next three years ($250K a year), will go to Greater Hartford Legal Aid to provide free legal assistance to residents, “to go after landlords, and at the same time, make sure they are protected in cases where they might be subject to retaliation,” said Mayor BronIN. Jamey Bell with Greater Hartford Legal Aid, said many of their resources are currently used on eviction defense, but this money will help them expand more into addressing unsafe housing.
“This funding will allow us to not only provide individual representation to city residents and housing condition cases, but also, through those cases, to identify systemic advocacy to improve the overall system and outcomes.
Quintana says some of the money should be used to increase Legal Aid staff.
She also says some city residents don’t qualify for free legal aid because of their zip code, so the city needs to look at that.
ONLY THE START:
For now, city officials want tenants to know, they were heard, and it’s only the start.
“I myself had to struggle with living in poor conditions where you’re actually having dinner with roaches and rodents and rats,” says Councilman Jimmy Sanchez, Chair of the Planning and Economic Development Housing Committee.
Councilman Nick Lebron says those new changes are the result of community voices.
He said, “continue to advocate, continue to make the phone calls and continue to persevere and make us, hold us accountable.”
Bronin says the city will also start looking into criminal prosecution for negligent landlords who ignore repeated requests.
Mayor Bronin said more announcements would be coming in the next few months.
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