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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.

Judge Orders Hartford to Pay $6.25 Million to Tenants Displaced From Homes

Hartford Fire Department
A fire in a Hartford building in January, 2014.

A state court judge has ruled that the city of Hartford owes more than $6 million to tenants who were eligible for -- but did not get -- housing relocation assistance after the city ordered them to leave their homes. Praising the decision, attorneys for the tenants said the administration of former Mayor Pedro Segarra all but ignored state law.

If you’re a renter and your pipes burst, or there’s a fire, or your apartment has another issue and the city orders you to leave your home, you’re entitled to some help. In addition to guidance, you should get money for moving, storage, and rental costs. But, in 2013, when attorneys at Greater Hartford Legal Aid asked the city what it was doing for residents in crisis, it got a bad response.

"The answer was virtually nothing," said David Pels, a staff attorney at the agency. "They provided a few days of motel stays, and then said to folks, 'Have a nice life.' And [they] did not provide them any of the other assistance that they were required to."

As a result, the agency asked a court to find the administration of Mayor Segarra in contempt of state law -- and, in 2014, it did. This recent ruling was on the damages. Attorney Cecil Thomas works with Pels and said the city didn’t even advise tenants of their rights.

“One of the primary issues here was not just that the payments weren’t made,” Thomas said. “It’s that the individuals who were displaced were not even told about the availability of these payments.”

Both attorneys said the administration of current Mayor Luke Bronin appears to be putting more effort into it. Pels said the judge’s ruling gives the city a clear directive.

“Hopefully, this administration understands what needs to be done regarding relocation, unlike past administrations,” he said. “And, if they didn’t, I think the court decision certainly drives it home.”

According to the ruling, nearly 1,700 affected residents are each due a total of $3,700, for a total of $6.25 million. The city -- whose finances are dire -- said it plans to appeal.

Jeff Cohen started in newspapers in 2001 and joined Connecticut Public in 2010, where he worked as a reporter and fill-in host. In 2017, he was named news director. Then, in 2022, he became a senior enterprise reporter.

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