A group of Connecticut residents, advocates and state leaders in Hartford are demanding systematic change in public housing assistance, in the wake of several scandals over shocking conditions at public housing complexes. Many say the help available to tenants from the federal government is inadequate.
Joshua Serrano said he and others lived in horrendous housing conditions at the Clay Arsenal Renaissance apartment complex for years before anything was done.
And then last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development terminated its million-dollar-a-year contract with the landlord.
“The day HUD announced that they were relocating us, we thought our prayers were answered," he said. "It gave a lot of us hope when for so long we had none.”
But the relocation process for people with housing vouchers has been difficult. Serrano stood alongside residents from Barbour Gardens and Infill apartment complexes Friday who were also promised relocation after HUD terminated contracts with their landlords this year — but months later, some are still living in their decrepit apartments or in hotels.
Serrano said he faced discrimination from landlords in other towns for his low-income status and the color of his skin. He said HUD isn’t helping residents move into areas that may offer better opportunities for their families.
“Many of us ended up in the same neighborhoods . . . forced back into very low income and deeply segregated neighborhoods for a variety of foreseeable and preventable obstacles that HUD failed to address,” he said.
HUD spokeswoman Rhonda Siciliano said the agency continues to work with families to find them permanent relocation. About 33 out of 69 families at Barbour Gardens have been relocated, while another 26 families have selected new apartments and are waiting moving dates, inspections or final lease agreements.
At Infill apartments, 21 out of 52 families have been relocated, while another 21 families await moving dates or inspections of new units.
But during these delays, residents said they and their children are still suffering housing conditions that are affecting their physical and behavioral health.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal met with residents to hear their stories, and said he felt “absolute outrage at the deplorable conditions that continue to exist and at a relocation process that fails to live up even to its name.”
Blumenthal said these issues stem from dysfunction within HUD and the public housing system, which is supported by taxpayer dollars and federal subsidies. The senator plans to draft a report with other members of Congress on the housing issues, to be presented to federal officials.
And Serrano said he hopes that leads to change for him and his family.
“It is clear major overhauls are needed to address this issue plaguing HUD and the systemic failure that continue to segregate and isolate the beautiful and resilient families that rely on housing subsidies, creating additional and unnecessary barriers to breaking the cycle of poverty that all of us, myself included, are determined to do," he said. "Our children deserve better — my child deserves better.”
Hartford residents will now have until the end of September to find new places to live with their housing vouchers.