By September, Connecticut will move roughly 1,800 homeless people now living into hotels and shelters into apartments and homes in order to protect them from the coronavirus.
The $14 million campaign is one of the biggest emergency housing initiatives the state has ever undertaken and it’s making the state Department of Housing look at its housing options with new eyes.
The Department is considering buying hotels in foreclosure to be a source of emergency housing for vulnerable people. Private non-profits would be the owners of the properties.
“This experience actually is giving us the opportunity to rethink how we house people in an emergency situation for services and housing,” Department of Housing Commissioner Seila Mosquera-Bruno said Tuesday. “We are looking at a couple of hotels to see if there is an opportunity for those that are going to be in foreclosure because they can provide the social space, the individual rooms so people are not together because the pandemic is not going away any time soon.”
The state is considering purchasing three or four hotels, said Steve DiLella, director of individual and family support programs at the Department of Housing. The purchases would be made using federal coronavirus relief funding.
“This is certainly in the early phases,” DiLella said. “We are thinking of ways to manage the system without going back to what we were doing… In the end, after COVID ends, these properties have the potential to be permanent housing.”
Rep. Jim Himes, D-4, said federal and state officials have learned from the pandemic that emergency and affordable housing need to be quickly available.
“This isn’t going to be the last time we need to find emergency housing to keep people safe,” Himes said. “It may not be a pandemic, or it will at some point, or it may be flooding… I hope we don’t lose the lessons we learned in that four-week mad dash.”
When COVID-19 struck Connecticut, DOH in March quickly moved homeless individuals 62 and older into empty hotel rooms, Mosquera-Bruno said. As the crisis deepened and it became clear group housing, like homeless shelters, was unsafe, roughly 1,000 homeless people were transitioned to about 15 hotel sites across the state, including hotels in Stamford, Danbury, Norwalk, Shelton, Waterbury, New Haven, and West Haven.
The total price tag for roughly 850 hotel rooms was about $1.5 million a month, plus additional costs for food, personal protective equipment, and staff at the hotel sites, DiLella said.
Moving people to hotel rooms worked, resulting in almost no positive coronavirus cases among the relocated individuals, said Kiley Gosselin, executive director of Partnership for Strong Communities.
Now, hotel contracts are expiring and networks of housing nonprofits are tasked with moving the 1,000 individuals — plus the roughly 200 people a month who become newly homeless — into apartments for the next six months to a year. The networks plan to move 250 people in June, 400 in July, and 350 in August.
The state and nonprofits will use about $14 million in federal funds to sign leases and move people into apartments, most of which are now listed on the free market, not public housing. They’re negotiating with landlords at a time of hot demand when many city-dwellers from New York are escaping to Connecticut, some temporarily, some permanently.
“In western Connecticut, Covid-19 makes it harder and the tightening of the market with many folks from New York coming out,” explained David Rich, executive director of Supportive Housing Works, which is now working to rehouse people in Fairfield and Litchfield counties. “Some places are outrageously expensive… there is just not enough [affordable housing] in Fairfield County.”
Housing advocates are also concerned about a new spike in evictions after Aug. 1, when a court-ordered stay on evictions is lifted. DiLella said the state is trying to prevent such a spike with new programs to help low-income people behind on rent catch up and provide legal services to tenants in eviction proceedings.