State housing department head appointed

Gov. Dannel Malloy announced last week his nomination of Evonne M. Klein to lead the state’s new Department of Housing.

Malloy plans to consolidate the state’s housing programs under the new agency, which was created by the Legislature in June 2012. Klein, who served as Darien’s first selectman from 2003 until 2009, will be the first commissioner of the agency that is tasked with managing public and affordable housing programs in the state.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside Evonne for a number of years, and I’ve been witness to her dedication, work ethic and leadership abilities,” Malloy said in a press release last week. “I know that she will serve as a strong advocate of ensuring that our state has the quality, affordable housing that will drive economic growth and make Connecticut a more vibrant place to work and live.”

Klein will be largely responsible for overseeing the implementation of Malloy’s aggressive new housing plan, which includes borrowing and spending more than $30 million each year for the next decade on improving and expanding the state’s public housing projects. Connecticut’s government owns and operates 14,000 apartments, making it one of only four states to have public housing projects financed by the state government.

Betsy Crum, executive director of the Connecticut Housing Coalition, served on the Interagency Council on Affordable Housing, which advised the governor and Legislature on the creation of the Department of Housing.

“I think the new Department’s mission is spot-on, and will transform the way housing is accomplished by creating a consolidated and streamlined delivery system,” Crum said in a Wednesday email to the News.

According to Crum, new state investment in affordable housing from the last biennial budget combined with the proposed funding in the new budget totals about $500 million.

“While very significant, this investment must leverage other public and private housing funds to address the considerable need for affordable and supportive housing in our state,” she wrote.

The state has already announced that it will provide grant money for some private housing development projects, provided that they offer some amount of affordable housing. One such project is the Winchester Lofts development on Winchester Avenue in New Haven, where Ohio-based developer Forest City Enterprises is planning to build a 158-unit residential apartment building on the site of an abandoned Winchester factory building. In late August, the company secured $4 million of state financing in exchange for reserving 20 percent of the building’s units for low-income housing.

Ward 21 Alderman Brenda Foskey-Cyrus, whose ward encompasses the development, said she is opposed to the project.

She said that she believes New Haven needs more affordable housing, but that the development, which will consist of apartments, will not be as family-oriented as other parts of the neighborhood.

Foskey-Cyrus said that she would prefer to see the land developed in a way that more directly benefits the existing residents of the community, suggesting a youth recreation center as one possibility.

“I’m not concerned about the rents going up,” she said. “I’m concerned about how it’s not actually going to benefit the people in this community.”

Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development classifies 29 percent of housing in New Haven as affordable. Statewide, only 10.7 percent of housing is considered affordable.

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