Hannah Qu, Contributing Photographer

On Oct. 4, New Haven launched the “I’m Home” initiative to promote affordable housing for renters and first-time homebuyers.

The initiative is two-fold. The New Haven Security Deposit Program will provide a one-time rental security deposit of $5,000 for up to two months to eligible individuals and families. Officials hope the program will provide permanent housing, stem homelessness and stabilize neighborhoods. They estimate it will support 600 households.

The New Haven Down Payment and Closing Cost Assistance Program, meanwhile, aims to help first-time homebuyers. The funds will support an estimated 40 New Haven households by providing down payment and closing cost assistance of up to $27,500. 

“In order for anyone to thrive, they need to have affordable, safe, high-quality housing and for our neighborhoods to thrive, they need residents who have a long-term stake in their future,” Mayor Justin Elicker wrote in a press release. 

To be eligible for these programs, the renters’ or first-time homebuyers’ income cannot exceed 300 percent of the federal poverty guideline, which corresponds to $38,640 for a one-person household and up to $79,500 for a four-person household.

Municipal employees are eligible for an additional $2,500 in rent assistance. According to Elicker, this is a way to attract people to become municipal employees and help support public works in the city.

The total price tag for the two programs is $4 million, all allocated from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

Ward 7 Alder Eli Sabin ’22 said that many landlords in the city are charging high security deposits that can be up to two or three times the first month’s rent.

“Helping renters to get in the door and have an affordable, safe place to live and helping new homeowners to get on that ladder of opportunity to build generational wealth,” Sabin said.

Tatania Sellers, the first New Haven resident to receive security deposit assistance through the “I’m Home” initiative, shared that the city helped her in time of need. 

Already a single mother of two kids, Sellers was pregnant with her third child when she was also out of work. She struggled to come up with a two-month security deposit of $3,600. Sellers recounted going to the city hall with her newborn baby just two days after a C-section surgery.  Staff there helped her to get a commitment from Livable City Initiative (LCI) to cover the $3,600 security deposit before the program even opened. 

“Without the support of this program, finding the money for security deposit was just out of reach,” said Sellers. “The extra boost was all I needed to get me and my family into an apartment we could call home and begin to dream about the future and begin exploring new opportunities.”

In 2022, the average fair market rent for a 1-bedroom unit in Connecticut was $1,172 per month, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. That translates to working 64 hours a week at the state’s $14 minimum wage just to pay rent.

LCI executive director Arlevia Samuel described a dire shortage of affordable housing in the city.

“Hopefully more people will be able to find a home and move in quicker rather than being homeless or living with a friend,” said Samuel.

The New Haven Board of Alders designated $13 million for the “I’m Home” initiative in August.