Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will make a 10-year, $330 million commitment to affordable housing in the budget he is proposing next week, with much of the money devoted to the rehabilitation of long-neglected, state-financed public housing.
The program calls for spending $30 million a year in state bonding over the next decade, a sum that housing experts say could be easily doubled by leveraging tax-sheltered private equity.
“On behalf of all the advocates, can I just say, ‘Whoo hoo!’ ” said Betsy Crum, the executive director of the Connecticut Housing Coalition, one of the housing advocates at Malloy’s announcement Wednesday evening in Hartford.
Connecticut, one of only four states with state-financed public housing projects, has underfunded maintenance of those projects for the past 20 years. An estimated 10 percent of its 14,000 apartments are badly deteriorated or uninhabitable.
Dara Kovel, the chief housing officer for the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, said many vacant units need to be gutted and totally renovated. Some buildings are too damaged to be saved, she said.
At Westbrook Village and Bowles Park, two adjacent low-rise projects in Hartford, about half the 770 units are vacant. At Vidal Court in Stamford, half the bleak mid-rise is dilapidated, while half has been demolished and rebuilt.
Malloy announced his program in a conference room at The Lyceum in Hartford, where he says he participated in many housing strategy sessions as mayor of Stamford. A regular topic: How to save the state public housing.
“I promised myself if I was ever in a position to do something about it, I would,” Malloy said.
Last year, Malloy committed $130 million in bonding for housing, mainly for gap financing to allow the construction of affordable housing.
“It didn’t go high enough last year. That’s what we’re acknowledging,” Malloy said.
Malloy said the state-financed public housing – the majority of public housing in the U.S. is built and maintained with federal funds – has not been adequately funded since the last years of the administration of Gov. William A. O’Neill, who left office in 1991.
“From that time on, the programs basically died a slow death,” he said. “I have got to play catch up, quite frankly.”
Aside from the bonding commitment for public housing, his new proposal would provide $12.5 million for elderly congregate housing, $20 million for affordable housing options and $1.5 million for scattered-site, supportive housing.
Malloy said there has not been new state funding for elderly congregate housing in 11 years.
The governor also is proposing a reorganization that would combine housing programs in the Department of Economic and Community Development. Programs now are shared by DECD and the Department of Social Services.
The governor said the investments would provide clean, safe housing and give a boost to the construction industry, creating more than 6,000 jobs over two years.
“Every dollar spent on affordable housing generates multiple times that amount in private economic activity,” Malloy said.
Malloy’s initiatives are not always preceded by outreach efforts to the legislature, but this one clearly had been: House Speaker Christopher G. Donovan, D-Meriden, attended the announcement, and a laudatory comment from Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, was included in the press packet.
“As a strong advocate for affordable and supportive housing, I applaud Gov. Malloy for the progress he has made on these issues and for giving attention to this important cause,” McKinney said. “I look forward to working with him on this initiative in the upcoming legislative session.”
On Tuesday, Donovan’s proposal to increase the hourly minimum wage by $1.50 over the next two years drew a lukewarm response from Malloy. But the speaker and governor were in sync Wednesday on housing.
“Boy, this is great news,” said Donovan, who said that previous governors did not have the will to address affordable housing. “He understands it. He gets it.”
Sen. Ed Gomes, D-Bridgeport, co-chairman of the legislature’s Housing Committee, said the news conference was one of his first public appearances since his hospitalization four months ago. He said he had to thank the governor.
“We’re just so elated,” said Gomes, who has been recuperating at home. “If there was anything that got me off my butt, it was this.”