Starting last Friday, a new student-led task force has begun to shed light on the dearth of housing options for the poor, young and single in New Haven.
After meeting with New Haven City Plan Committee chair Edward Mattison last week, The Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project is seeking both Yale law students and undergraduates for a task force to investigate the history and prevalence of rooming houses in the city. Mattison is working with YHHAP as as a private citizen and staff member of Continuum of Care, an organization targeting problems of homelessness in New Haven.
“I have seen a huge need for this type of housing for extremely poor people,” said local landlord Hugo Miura, who owns two recovery houses for people with disabilities in the Elm City. “We have received calls from everyone. [There are] a lot of people in the streets and a lot of people living in the shelters … There’s still a lot of work to be done in this field.”
Hanna said she expects the task force will be composed of four to seven students, including one to three law students. Members of the task force will meet with city officials in mid-October to finalize their goals for the year before conducting research over the course of the semester. In January, the task force will present its final results to the City Planning Committee.
YHHAP and the Committee recognized that although rooming houses often turn down applicants due to a lack of space, there is little numerical data on the supply and demand for these houses. The lack of data spurred the creation of the task force, according to YHHAP board member and task force director Stephanie Siow ’17.
According to organizers, the task force will investigate the feasibility of boarding houses in New Haven by interviewing tenants, city officials, nonprofit leaders and other city residents. The task force will also analyze financial data from current rooming houses as well as research supply and demand for SRO housing. The task force will also consider other housing options that could serve the city’s needs.
Chair of the City Planning Committee and former Ward 10 Alder Edward Mattison LAW ’68 originally reached out to YHHAP members about the project in May. He said the initiative will focus on individuals who struggle to earn steady incomes, and finding SRO housing geared toward young individuals without families or drug addictions.
The task force will also look at similar solutions in other cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, where nonprofit organizations mediate relationships between the landlords of rooming houses and tenants, Siow and Mattison said.
Rooming houses can also be run on a for-profit model, Mattison said. Houses run for profit do not depend on government subsidies, meaning they can continue to operate if state or federal funding dries up, he added.
Miura said that his recovery houses — which run on a model similar to that of rooming houses — are currently successful, for-profit organizations.
Although houses can run for profit, securing startup capital can be a roadblock to establishing these houses, Siow said. Approaching nonprofit organizations may be one solution to establishing the houses, Mattison said, adding that many banks consider rooming houses a risky investment given the often unstable income of their tenants.
Another hindrance to increasing the number of rooming houses in New Haven comes from city ordinances, Mattison said. He cited former New Haven Mayor Richard Lee’s 1950s-era urban renewal initiative, which reallocated land away from rooming houses out of a concern that the houses would facilitate drug use.
Rooming houses still have a contentious presence in the city. In 2012, the New Haven Independent reported a dispute between an illegal Cedar Hill rooming house and its neighbors. While the landlord fought to legalize the house’s presence, residents in the area voiced concerns about the potential for illegal drug use in the building. In 2013, officials shut down the rooming house, calling it unfit for human habitation.
A 2014 survey commissioned by the city found that out of the 566 homeless individuals in New Haven, 347 were single adults.
Correction, Sept. 29: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that YHHAP’s first meeting regarding the task force was with the city planning commission. In fact, YHHAP met with only Mattison, who is working with YHHAP as a private citizen and staff member of Continuum of Care, an organization targeting problems of homelessness in New Haven.