Yale Daily News

With a dedicated budget of $10 million in federal American Rescue Plan, or ARP, funding, the city’s newly announced “I’m Home” initiative is intended to make homeownership and rental housing more affordable in New Haven. 

At a Jan. 12 press conference, Mayor Justin Elicker and other city and community leaders unveiled the Phase 3 allocation plan for New Haven’s ARP funds, which will encompass a significant $53 million of the total $115 million the city received from the federal government. One of the five categories of focus in the proposal is affordable housing and neighborhood development, brought together through the creation of “I’m Home.” 

Although concrete details of this program are to be ironed out in the coming months under the direction of the Livable City Initiative, the $10 million are set to fund rental and down payment assistance and affordable housing development projects. Additionally, officials plan to develop infrastructure to help residents navigate the complexities of the city’s housing market. 

“There’s no more urgent priority in this [ARP funding plan] than housing and the affordable housing crisis,” Economic Development Administrator Michael Piscitelli said at a press conference. “What we call the ‘I’m Home’ initiative is the wealth creation for new homeownership opportunities, but also funding for housing navigators to support our financial services center, as well as accountability measures through our Fair Rent Commission and housing inspection program.” 

This initiative represents the city’s first investment of ARP funding into housing, and as of now, it is still very early on in the development phase. According to Arlevia Samuel, the executive director of the Livable City Initiative, she and her department were only informed of this plan by Elicker’s team a day before the public press conference. 

Samuel told the News that in the weeks since the announcement, she has created an “outline” for how the program will function, which the city will workshop over the coming months. She estimated that formal hearings and public input sessions will begin in March.

“We were looking for a name that encompassed what we’re trying to do, which is to have people say that they’re proud to live in New Haven, and also to be a place where homeownership and just living is affordable for everyone,” Samuel said. “So that you can be a lower-income household and actually own your first home … and we like to focus on those who live in and are of New Haven.” 

Per the city’s slide deck summarizing the Phase 3 ARP funding plan, the numerous projects included under “I’m Home” are divided into three overall categories. Samuel noted that the city
“pretty much does all of these [projects] in some capacity already,” but that the new infusion of funds through “I’m Home” will allow New Haven to expand its capacity and provide services more affordably. 

First, the Neighborhood Development Initiative will support “wealth creation through homeownership,” assisting community members with down payments and closing costs while also encouraging the creation of Accessory Dwelling Units, or ADUs, in pre-existing single-family homes. 

Next, the Fair Housing Fund will provide technology upgrades to streamline home safety inspections, subsidize the pre-existing activities of the Fair Rent Commission and also provide gap financing to support development projects with “deeply affordable” housing components. Samuel shared that she hopes to take this opportunity to partner with local nonprofit developers, fostering wealth creation in the community. 

The last component of “I’m Home” is the Rental Assistance Fund, which will support families not currently able to access federal Section 8 housing vouchers or the state’s Rental Assistance Program rehousing initiative.

One significant new element of the Rental Assistance Fund could be the creation of a security deposit assistance program. Samuel said that this has not existed previously on a local level, but that she “knows there’s a big need for people who are homeless … when you rent an apartment nowadays, even if it’s an affordable unit, they want you to pay first and last month’s rent. For a lot of people, that’s just not affordable.” 

The city also plans to use the Rental Assistance Fund to start a registry of all the below-market rentals available in New Haven, according to Samuel. Newly appointed housing “navigators” — who will also help lower-income families move through the complexities of the city’s housing market — will compile listings of every vacant affordable unit in the city and of every prospective renter looking for affordable housing, hopefully able to “fit the two together.” 

In the city’s previous phases of ARP funding distribution, the absence of a dedicated allocation of funds to help combat the city’s affordable housing crisis disturbed a number of community members. The Sisters in Diaspora Collective, a coalition of local refugee and immigrant women, wrote an article in the New Haven Independent in October 2021 pressing Elicker to invest a portion of the federal funding into combating mega-landlords and providing more affordable housing options. 

In the article, authored before the city announced its Phase 3 funding allocation, the Collective decried the lack of community engagement in the process of determining funding priorities, saying that “not one of us in our immigrant and refugee community have heard of these opportunities to express our concerns and priorities directly to those gathering community input.” 

The Sisters in Diaspora also called for the city to address the consolidation of low-income housing in the hands of a few mega-landlords by purchasing apartment buildings and converting them into low-rent public housing, a proposal that the city has not allocated funding for. The Collective identified Mandy Management — a landlord that has bought up 1,307 apartments in New Haven over the last four years, at a total cost of $124 million — as a company to be targeted.

James Paley, executive director of Neighborhood Housing Services of New Haven, a nonprofit developer that purchases and rehabilitates affordable housing, concurred with the Collective’s assessment of the problem with New Haven’s housing. 

“There are a tremendous number of investors who are basically dominating the housing market, especially in low income neighborhoods in which we are working,” Paley said. 

He noted that city funding of nonprofit developers could be a boon to low-income homebuyers, as they would find cheaper options in the market.

Paley shared his excitement about the prospect of federal funding being directed towards affordable housing, especially as neither of the city’s first two ARP disbursement plans included housing. At the same time though, he stressed patience, noting that in large funding announcements “the devil is in the details.” 

Karen DuBois-Walton, former mayoral candidate and the president of Elm City Communities, the Housing Authority of New Haven, told the News that she was anticipating the city would make investments in housing in the Phase 3 distribution plan, particularly given resident feedback and the severity of the crisis. Improving access to housing, she said, is fundamental to the city’s recovery from COVID-19. 

DuBois-Walton noted that the “I’m Home” program incorporates a number of the suggestions that she and her team had submitted during the “civic space” community engagement process behind the Phase 3 funding plan. Specifically, she said that it appears to seek the stabilization of the affordable rental housing market and create homeownership opportunities where “people who are going to actually live in the property…are supported in their homeownership as opposed to outside investors.” 

The employment of housing “navigators” and the distribution of housing subsidies to those unable to access federal or state programs were two other areas that Dubois-Walton had advocated for.

However, DuBois-Walton told the News that there was one glaring gap in the otherwise comprehensive “I’m Home” program — services and support for the unhoused. 

“We can’t get to housing stability without thinking about how we move people who are currently unhoused and strengthen the system for serving the unhoused,” DuBois-Walton said. “So we’ll be pushing and working with the Coordinated Access Network and others who are front and center on the issues of the unhoused … it didn’t jump out to me clearly what was in the plan that addressed those issues.” 

She added that with the end of the eviction moratorium in Connecticut — which as of now is set to occur on Feb. 15 — the city needs to begin thinking about how to actively prevent evictions and keep periods of homelessness brief. Initial systems by the city government to distribute money for eviction prevention had been “difficult to navigate,” DuBois-Walton said.

As the ARP funding plan moves through the Board of Alders and is subject to public input, DuBois-Walton said that she hopes amendments can be added to “get some more meat on the bones” of the housing program.

The American Rescue Plan was signed into law on March 11, 2021.

NATHANIEL ROSENBERG
Nathaniel Rosenberg is an Audience Editor for the News and covers Cops and Courts for the City Desk. He previously wrote about housing and homelessness. Originally from Silver Spring, MD, he is a sophomore in Morse College.
SYLVAN LEBRUN
Sylvan Lebrun reports on City Hall. She previously covered nonprofits and social services in the New Haven area. She is a sophomore in Pauli Murray College majoring in English.