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Housing issues affect everyone in Connecticut, from those who are searching for a safe place to live, to those who may find it increasingly difficult to afford a place they already call home.WNPR is covering Connecticut's housing and homelessness issues in a series that examines how residents are handling the challenges they face. We look at the trends that matter most right now, and tell stories that help bring the issues to light.

Hartford Tenant Lawsuit Alleges HUD Violated Fair Housing Act

Tenants at Barbour Garden Apartments in Hartford experienced unsafe conditions including mold, mice, and leaky ceilings. The lawsuit claims that tenants experienced housing discrimination in their search for better living conditions.
Tyler Russell
Connecticut Public Radio
Tenants at Barbour Garden Apartments in Hartford experienced unsafe conditions, including mold, mice and leaky ceilings. A lawsuit claims that tenants also experienced housing discrimination in their search for better living conditions.

A group of former residents from Hartford’s North End is taking on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Center for Leadership and Justice filed suiton their behalf Wednesday, claiming that HUD failed to reduce segregation when giving them options for new housing.

Tenants endured black mold hanging from the ceiling. Mothers watched mice run through their children’s cribs on the baby monitor. These were among the claims detailed by members of the groups filing the suit outside Barbour Garden Apartments Wednesday.

“Every family we talked to who had kids had at least one kid with asthma, which can be triggered or exacerbated by mold,” said Erin Boggs, executive director of the Open Communities Alliance, one of the groups working on the lawsuit.

“One of our clients discussed how she had witnessed -- outside her building with her son -- an execution-style shooting,” Boggs said of one of the tenants who spoke at Wednesday’s news conference. Many of the tenants reported traumatizing conditions and said they felt trapped because the vouchers for housing were attached to their apartments, not themselves, said Boggs.

The tenants and Center for Leadership and Justice will be represented by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Open Communities Alliance, Covington & Burling LLP and the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization.

The plaintiffs are primarily Black and Hispanic women who lived in three apartment complexes, Barbour Garden Apartments, Clay Arsenal Renaissance Apartments and Infill I.

These families ultimately got out of the apartments and received Section 8 housing vouchers, which would enable them to live anywhere.

But this is where the suit claims HUD went wrong. Tenants were rushed to find new housing, according to the complaint, and they weren’t given “mobility counseling,” which would have helped them move to higher-opportunity neighborhoods. The complaint says that HUD has seen this counseling as essential since 1996. It states “over 90% of people who participated in the mobility program were able to move to low-poverty, racially integrated areas.” 

But that’s not what happened. The suit says the tenants remained in segregated, low-income areas. Data from the suit shows those areas are also majority non-white. And that amounts to a perpetuation of segregation and violation of their rights under the Fair Housing Act, the complaint says.

Dan Suleiman, a partner at Covington & Burling LLP, says the Fair Housing Act has two mandates. “Number one, they have a duty to counteract segregation, and number two, they need to not perpetuate segregation.” Suleiman believes this was an example of perpetuation of segregation because many of these families ended up in the North End of Hartford, some only blocks from their original home.

The implications of this suit, Suleiman says, could mean changes for housing authorities across the country. “This lawsuit is about Hartford, but I absolutely think that the experience in Hartford is probably representative of what’s happened in a lot of other places as well.”

HUD declined a request for comment because of the pending litigation.

Ali Oshinskie is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Ali covers the Naugatuck River Valley for Connecticut Public Radio. Email her at aoshinskie@ctpublic.organd follow her on Twitter at @ahleeoh.

Ali Oshinskie is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. She loves hearing what you thought of her stories or story ideas you have so please email her at aoshinskie@ctpublic.org.

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