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New Haven affordable housing initiative takes to the streets

Maxine Sumrell expresses joy during a Living City Initiative pop-up mobile office where city workers connected residents to housing resources. Sumrell, who lives in the neighborhood, says getting access to housing information is important to her and other senior citizens.
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
Maxine Sumrell expresses joy during a Living City Initiative pop-up mobile office where city workers connected residents to housing resources. Sumrell, who lives in the neighborhood, says getting access to housing information is important to her and other senior citizens.

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The Livable City Initiative (LCI), recently began mobile office events, placing department officials in New Haven neighborhoods to field requests and concerns from residents. It's a new tactic for the 30-year-old agency.

LCI’s new mobile office initiative will establish pop-up offices twice a month in public parks and spaces throughout New Haven, including public schools and police stations.

At the remote office, Livable City Initiative team members can meet with residents, answer questions, provide information about programs, take complaints and schedule appointments for housing inspections.

Mobile offices are equipped to help residents sign up for the department’s various programs, LCI Executive Director Arlevia Samuel said.

“My team is here, they're doing applications, they're taking complaints, scheduling inspections. Everything we do in the office, this team is doing in the field,” Samuel said.

LCI is responsible for ensuring affordable, safe and high-quality housing through enforcing housing codes, addressing blight, and administering programs. The department is in charge of the city’s security deposit assistance program for renters. It is also responsible for the down payment and closing cost assistance program for homebuyers.

As of May, Livable City Initiative received nearly 6,000 housing code complaints in the last year in a city of 140,000 residents, many of whom rent. This means each of the agency’s 12 inspectors must attempt to address 500 complaints. There are roughly 260 working days in a year.

Of the city’s nearly 50,000 households, 28% are homeowners, according to a CT Data Haven equity report. Fifty-three percent of New Haven’s households are cost-burdened, meaning they spend at least 30% of their total income on housing costs.

Since the new program began in May, there were five pop-up events, with two scheduled in both August and September.

“It seems each one garners a little more interest than the previous one, because the more people realize that we're out here, and we do more marketing, and let more people know that we're gonna be there, more people are showing up,” Samuel said.

New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker used the opportunity to promote the department’s new affordable rental database. The database shows a map of units designated affordable. But it's up to prospective tenants to check availability.

“It would require an incredible amount of staff to actively check with different landlords about, ‘is your unit vacant now? Is your unit not vacant?’ There's a lot of turnover in these units. And I think it's just not realistic to think that we can manage that,” Elicker said.

Abigail is Connecticut Public's housing reporter, covering statewide housing developments and issues, with an emphasis on Fairfield County communities. She received her master's from Columbia University in 2020 and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2019. Abigail previously covered statewide transportation and the city of Norwalk for Hearst Connecticut Media. She loves all things Disney and cats.

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