Shahrzad Rasekh / CT Mirror

A New York City-based affordable housing developer is upgrading a Manchester property, marking the firm’s first foray into Connecticut.

Camber Property Group closed on Oakland Heights, a $23 million, 106-unit complex late last month. They signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to keep the project affordable for 20 years.

The company plans to extend the eligibility at the end of that period, said Rick Gropper, principal and cofounder of Camber.

“Preservation of affordable housing is something that we do, and there was an opportunity to extend the affordability, make sure that people can stay in their apartments,” Gropper said in an interview.

The complex is project-based Section 8, meaning that it’s 100% affordable. All the tenants have government assistance to help them cover rent.

There are 441 properties in Connecticut that have contracts with HUD to provide affordable housing such as project-based Section 8, and 256 of those are 100% affordable, said Bruce Brodoff, a HUD spokesperson.

The federal government has put more resources into project-based Section 8 in recent years through the Rental Assistance Demonstration program. The program turns public housing into project-based Section 8, often through public-private partnership.

The program began during President Barack Obama’s administration and expanded under former President Donald Trump. Late last month, President Joe Biden’s administration issued new guidance on the RAD program, including new requirements for resident engagement and raising the minimum energy efficiency standards.

One of Camber’s goals is to engage residents, and many of their buildings have resident councils, Gropper said. In some cases, they’ve started resident councils in buildings that didn’t have them.

HUD also made $85 million in grants available for housing production and preservation. The grants aim to push municipalities to reduce barriers to affordable housing such as restrictive zoning ordinances.

Housing preservation is important in a state like Connecticut that has an aging housing stock. The state is at risk of losing thousands of units of affordable housing in the next few years, according to estimates from the National Housing Preservation Database.

The state lacks tens of thousands of units of housing that are affordable and available to its lowest income renters.

The Oakland Heights apartments are a mixture of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. Camber will do some deferred maintenance and make sustainability upgrades such as installing LED lighting and improving energy efficiency, Gropper said.

They plan for work to be done within a year.

“This is an exciting first step into Connecticut,” he said. “We really liked a lot of the characteristics of this property – the scale of the buildings, the scale of the developments, the size of it. That region is a place that we wanted to become involved in and would love to expand the footprint there.”

Camber plans to expand its reach in Connecticut and is looking at New Haven or Bridgeport for next steps, Gropper said. 

It’s a regional company with properties in New York, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. They have about 9,000 units in their portfolio, he said.

Ginny is CT Mirror's children's issues and housing reporter and a Report for America corps member. She covers a variety of topics ranging from child welfare to affordable housing and zoning. Ginny grew up in Arkansas and graduated from the University of Arkansas' Lemke School of Journalism in 2017. She began her career at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette where she covered housing, homelessness, and juvenile justice on the investigations team. Along the way Ginny was awarded a 2019 Data Fellowship through the Annenberg Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California. She moved to Connecticut in 2021.