Small housing authorities in Rocky Hill and Bloomfield struggle without Section 8 vouchers

The Rocky Hill Housing Authority, like many smaller housing authorities, does not have any Section 8 vouchers to distribute.

The Rocky Hill Housing Authority, like many smaller housing authorities, does not have any Section 8 vouchers to distribute.

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ROCKY HILL — Smaller Connecticut housing authorities without Section 8 vouchers are struggling to stay afloat on rents determined by a tenant's income. 

While many larger housing authorities like Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven have thousands of vouchers to distribute to qualifying residents to subsidize their rent, housing authorities like Rocky Hill and Bloomfield do not have any vouchers at all. Tenants pay rent according to 30 percent of their income. For example, if their income is $700 a month, the housing authority will make $210 a month on rent.

"We subsidized rent based on their income, but nobody subsidizes the housing authorities," said Susan Carotenuti, executive director of the Rocky Hill Housing Authority.  "The vouchers would benefit the housing authorities."

The Rocky Hill Housing Authority is state-sponsored and serves older adults and people with disabilities. Many of the people living there are on fixed-income and pay small amounts each month. Carotenuti wants to continue serving these populations, but said the costs are adding up.

"Due to the rising costs, we have thousands of dollars worth of water bills and electric bills," Carotenuti said. "The only money that we generate in here is from people's rent."

In the case of larger cities, like nearby Hartford, residents can get vouchers that become portable after a year.  This means they can use the Section 8 voucher at housing authorities outside of Hartford or at any rental property that accepts Section 8.

"Housing vouchers are fully portable after the first year," said Michael Santoro, director of policy research and housing support with the state Department of Housing. "If someone in the city of Hartford applies, gets a Section 8 voucher, lives in a unit in the city of Hartford for one year, they can literally pick that voucher up and take it anywhere in the United States."

A 2017 report from the Open Communities Alliance showed Hartford had 2,289 vouchers, more than any Connecticut municipality other than Bridgeport. Every municipality is required to have a housing authority by statute, but they are not all active and some do not have a Section 8 program, according to Santoro. 

Only 46 housing authorities, including the state of Connecticut, have low-income voucher programs.

"They are predominantly the larger communities because the smaller housing authorities don't have the capacity or the need to administer a program locally," Santoro said.

Even though the state-sponsorship means Rocky Hill is not associated with the voucher program,  Carotenuti said it doesn't stop people from calling to ask. Additionally, Rocky Hill is age and ability restricted.

"I get a million calls a day," Carotenuti said. "I'm sorry, we're older adult housing authority here. We cannot relocate you here ... I'm not connected with the voucher aspect of that. But yeah, if they have a voucher, and it's portable and say they want to rent a duplex right across the street, they can certainly call the landlord, and if he's accepting Section 8, they could certainly move here."

The 2017 OCA report shows 20 percent of the Section 8 vouchers in Connecticut are administered from the state, while 80 percent come from the 46 local housing authorities that administer the program.

Bloomfield is facing a similar problem as Rocky Hill. While the housing authority's 16 tenants are not restricted by age or ability, the town has no vouchers. Unlike Rocky Hill, Bloomfield's housing authority is subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which does offer some funding.

Chair of the Bloomfield Housing Authority Robert Berman said that money is not enough.

"It makes it very difficult to make sure that everything is functioning efficiently and effectively," Berman said. "There are times when something needs to be replaced but we don't have the money to do it. We end up having to buy some used appliances rather than new appliances."

Additional money would allow the Bloomfield Housing Authority to serve more people, Berman explained. With more funding, he could buy more properties to create public housing options for those in need. And, the need is great.

"We opened a waiting list I'm gonna say six years ago for one day," Berman said. "We had 7,000 applications."

To try and tackle the problem, Berman applied for 501(c)(3) status with the federal government, but waiting on the application means the fix won't come quickly. He's already waited six months.

"Once we have that approval from the federal government, we're going to apply for grants from the state and different foundations to see if we get enough money to go and move ahead," Berman said.

With the grant money, Berman hopes to build more apartments.

"I get calls at least two or three times a week, people not only Connecticut, but New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania," Berman said. "Some are looking for Section 8. Some are just looking for housing, somewhere where they can bring their family can relocate to where they can live. They are losing their homes or can't afford the rents where they are."

But with just 16 units, and no opportunities for more funding to expand in the near future, Berman has few answers for them. He also has few answers for people living in Hartford and other Connecticut cities where vouchers are accessible and portable.

"People on the lower end of the income spectrum are living in areas where they're not comfortable," Berman said. "A lot of them would like to get out and they can't because they can't. Where are they gonna go?"