Aldermen explore new housing options

Members of the Board of Aldermen held a meeting on affordable housing yesterday, discussing a potential new strategy that favors protecting existing home ownership instead of pushing for new home ownership.

Thursday’s meeting of an ad hoc committee on affordable housing was largely devoted to hearing reports from consultant Jim Farnam, of the consulting firm Holt, Wexler & Farnam LLP, and from representatives from the Housing Authority of New Haven (HANH). Farnam recommended that the city shift from promoting new home ownership to preserving existing home ownership, especially in light of what he called rapidly changing economic conditions that include an increased number of foreclosures due to sub-prime mortgages. Committee members also heard from Karen Dubois-Walton and Pam Rosenbloom of HANH, who discussed issues relating to finance, security and new development of housing.

The members of the New Haven Board of Aldermen talk about making more affordable housing available in the city yesterday. The board decided that there will be a new system for applying for subsidized housing so that the local low-income residents can spend less money on rent.
Efan Wu
The members of the New Haven Board of Aldermen talk about making more affordable housing available in the city yesterday. The board decided that there will be a new system for applying for subsidized housing so that the local low-income residents can spend less money on rent.

Dubois-Walton, HANH’s Chief Operations Officer, unveiled new calculation procedures for subsidized housing whereby residents can contribute a smaller portion of their income towards rent, providing relief for residents with low or unstable incomes.

Under the new procedures, which will take effect in January 2008, participants in the program need only apply for re-certification of their eligibility tri-annually for the elderly, and bi-annually for other families. The old system required participants to re-certifiy every year.

The move was met with relief and approval by the aldermen, who feel that the new procedures will take pressure off cash-strapped residents. Alderwoman Jacqueline James of Ward 3, chairwoman of the committee, especially welcomed the changes.

“There’s stress, when it comes to recertification time,” James said.

The new system, she said, is a lot less stressful.

The Committee also discussed issues of security in government-owned housing complexes, as the city struggles to establish baseline police services across various communities in New Haven.

Many aldermen expressed concern for the safety of their constituents.

“These folks feel like they’re in the dark and that we’ve forgotten about them,” said Ward 11 Alderman Robert Lee, who chairs the Ad Hoc Committee on Housing Authority Review. “I want to assure these mothers up there that somebody’s looking after them.”

The city is encouraging officers in the New Haven Police Department to move into local neighborhoods, in hopes that they will become a positive presence in their communities. But currently, some aldermen said, the city is having a hard time finding police officers to move into lower-income neighborhoods that need the most support.

After addressing the issue of security, Rosenbloom presented HANH’s plans for new developments and redevelopments throughout the city. The plans include new housing units, family centers and recreational areas that are meant to foster a greater sense of community among residents of housing owned by the HANH. These developments go hand-in-hand with increasing security and improving the welfare of residents, some aldermen said.

The committee that met yesterday was established to address issues of affordable and safe housing for city residents, and aims to study problems that new developments, redevelopments, sub-prime mortgages and foreclosures bring.

“As downtown New Haven began to be gentrified, there was a concern that people would be priced out of living there,” Ward 7 Alderwoman Frances Clark said, adding that the primary purpose of the committee is to allay these concerns.

The committee, officially called the Ad Hoc Committee on Strategies, Initiatives, and Alternatives to Preserve Affordable Housing, will next meet on Oct. 25.

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