Paul Brennan | CTMirror

Connecticut’s elected officials in Washington continue to ignore intolerable living conditions at Branford Manor, Groton’s federally funded affordable housing complex.

Despite decades of complaints about hazardous and unsanitary living conditions, the property’s corporate owner, The Related Companies Inc., profits from taxpayer funds while neglecting urgently needed repairs and mold remediation.

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Without oversight and enforcement, the Housing Assistance Payments (HAP) contract between The Related Companies Inc. and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) enables an insidious symbiotic relationship that prioritizes profits for private companies over the well-being and dignity of residents.

As a federal agency, HUD is accountable to our Sens. Richard Blumenthal, Chris Murphy, and District 2 U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, who, despite receiving multiple written requests, have refused to call for the Office of Inspector General (OIG) to audit HUD’s operations. As a result of their dereliction of duty, the only option left for the families at Branford Manor to improve their living conditions was to file a class action lawsuit and fight for their rights.

HUD spends federal tax dollars to subsidize rent payments to landlords for tenants who qualify for public housing. While HUD’s rent payments on behalf of Branford Manor tenants appear to be in keeping with liberal ideas, in practice the agency sets in motion the ongoing exploitation of vulnerable individuals who rely on public housing. The Related Companies Inc. has a portfolio of real estate assets valued at over $60 billion. They also own other government-guaranteed housing projects throughout the United States, with over 50,000 similar units as of 2022.

Robert Boris
Robert Boris

The HAP contract between HUD and Branford Manor’s owner outlines the terms of the taxpayer subsidy, specifying the monthly rent payment the tenant is responsible for and the amount of the HAP payment that HUD will directly pay to the property owner on the tenant’s behalf (typically up to 70%). The contract also includes the provision that government subsidy payments will only be made as long as the landlord is providing “safe and sanitary units… in accordance with HUD regulations and other requirements.”

The primary tool for overseeing the administration of the contract is the biennial Real Estate Assessment Center (REAC) inspection administered by HUD. The inspector assesses various aspects of the property, including the structure, electrical and plumbing systems, heating and cooling systems, appearance, cleanliness, and management practices. The inspection outcome establishes if the property complies with HUD standards and is used to calculate the amount of annual housing assistance payment.

It is explicitly written in the HAP contract with The Related Companies Inc. that if the living conditions at Branford Manor do not meet HUD standards, the agency has the right to withhold rent subsidy payments until the conditions are remediated. So why has Branford Manor experienced squalor and mold for decades, as generations of residents have attested? Why is there no audit of HUD’s handling of these systemic issues, and why is there not more pressure on Blumenthal, Murphy, and Courtney to act?

HUD’s power to withhold rent subsidy payments to the landlords of Branford Manor is written in the contract. They can continue to do so until The Related Companies Inc. fixes any deficiencies at the residence. Unsubsidized renters do it. The tenants at Branford Manor should be afforded the same rights and dignity.

Mold at Branford Manor Robert Boris | CTMirror

Our congressional delegation is asleep at the wheel of oversight. All too often this is the case when the victims are children and families with few options and little financial clout. An OIG audit will show us exactly how and what we need to do to fix the system.

Senator Blumenthal has called for a federal investigation into M&T Bank after customer complaints, but even after a visit to Branford Manor back in May, has caused no apparent improvement in the tenants’ situation. If a bank is worthy of such scrutiny, don’t the residents of Branford Manor, who have filed a class action lawsuit, deserve the same level of consideration with a federal audit?

The ongoing exploitation of the families at Branford Manor and other government-subsidized housing across the country is cruel and inhumane. Our congressional delegation must use its powers of oversight to provide accountability over how our tax dollars are spent and to protect children and families from systemic exploitation.

The HUD model of providing public housing is a disgrace, segregating neighborhoods and failing to provide adequate living conditions. Blumenthal, Murphy, and Courtney’s refusal to demand an Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit of HUD’s inaction at Branford Manor perpetuates a system of exploiting the poor for the profit of the privileged.

Robert Boris is a member of The Connecticut Mirror Community Editorial Board.