At the Urban Hope Refuge Church in the North End of Hartford, residents and activists celebrated the city’s new housing codes, which they hope will hold landlords and owners more accountable.
“The new code will not only prevent slumlords from continuing to make money off horrendous and inhumane living conditions they create for residents,” said Joshua Serrano, “but also lift the corporate veil, of which many slumlords hide.”
Serrano was among former residents of the now-defunct Barbour Gardens, an apartment complex that offered low-income housing units. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development earlier this year severed a $750,000-a-year Section 8 housing contract with the landlord after inspectors found that the building had “major threats to health and safety.”
Residents relocated to other housing units in and around Hartford. The city tried to bring the New York-based landlord to court for neglect and safety violations.
Similar events had previously played out at other affordable housing complexes in Hartford, including Clay Arsenal Renaissance and Infill apartment complexes. It was enough to motivate residents, activists, local organizations and legislators to demand changes and take aim at what they called “slumlords.”
“We recognized that there were weaknesses in our housing code, a code that hadn’t been updated or overhauled in decades,” said Mayor Luke Bronin.
City officials said the new housing codes close municipal loopholes, create greater accountability and better enforce existing rules.
As an example of stricter regulations under the new codes, the city will now require the names of every owner, operator and member of a corporation or limited liability company that owns housing complexes.
Out-of-town owners will need to have a residential address registered with the city and provide copies of their driver’s license or other identification. Housing advocates said this will increase transparency for the residents and better help officials identify who is responsible for attending to living conditions at housing complexes.
“Creating more effective tools would help us promote responsible landlords who want what’s best for the community,” Bronin said, “and allow us to hold accountable those who are just trying to extract wealth without investing, without creating the kind of housing conditions that our community deserves.”
Some of the new housing codes will go into effect immediately while others will be phased in over the course of about four years.
Milagros Ortiz is part of the leadership team of tenants who have been bringing community housing issues to the attention of state and city legislators. She said she hopes the new changes will spare others from living through what her family did.
“My apartment was infested with mice and my daughter was afraid to sleep at night,” Ortiz said. “Not a single window in my apartment fit the frame. Cold air flowed through my apartment in the winter months.”
The most important part now, said Greater Hartford Legal Aid housing attorney Cecil Thomas, is making sure the new codes are carried out.
“As we celebrate this victory, I also know that we are not done,” he said. “The new Hartford housing code is only so many words on a piece of paper without the resources, staffing and modernization to make sure that it is effectively enforced.”