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HUD releases vouchers for residents of Thames River Apartments

New London — The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Monday released $1.28 million to fund housing vouchers and relocate the residents of the troubled Thames River Apartments.

The long-awaited news of funding was announced in a joint statement from U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District. The Housing Choice Voucher program is the federal government’s major program for assisting low-income families, the elderly and the disabled to afford housing in the private market.

"Housing Choice Vouchers provide critical access to affordable housing that supports families and others in need during their toughest times. We welcome HUD's investment in the New London community, and are grateful for the New London Housing Authority for its continued work towards expanding quality, affordable housing in the city," Blumenthal, Murphy and Courtney said in a joint statement.

The "tenant protection vouchers" were awarded to the New London Housing Authority through HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher program to assist the families in the 122-unit federally subsidized apartment complex for very low-income families on Crystal Avenue. The complex and its three high-rises have long been an example of what many have said is warehousing of the poor. Residents at Thames River pay 30 percent of their income, based on a HUD formula, for rent. They will continue to pay the same percentage once they obtain the vouchers.

A more-than-decade-old class action lawsuit by residents against the housing authority over unsanitary and unsafe conditions led to a stipulated court judgment in 2014 that mandates new housing for the tenants. New London attorney Robert Reardon still represents the tenants and has been meeting monthly with city officials and the Superior Court judge handling the case for monthly progress updates.  

Lee Erdmann, the interim executive director of the housing authority, said Monday that the news was significant and that letters have already been hand delivered to some of the Thames River families.

Representatives from D’Amelia Associates, a contractor with the state Department of Housing, and Glendower Group, the company hired to handle relocation efforts for the housing authority, will be coordinating the issuance of vouchers. Both will be on hand at a meeting on Dec. 8 to help residents fill out the appropriate paperwork needed before the vouchers are issued.

“That kicks off the process for all of the tenants,” Erdmann said.

There will be a follow-up meeting sometime in December when the vouchers are actually distributed. Glendower must have the vouchers in hand before new homes can be secured, but Thames River tenants have been encouraged to start the search process on their own.

Glendower had predicted a nine- to 10-month process for relocation once vouchers are obtained, but Erdmann said “they’re hoping they can speed it up.” Erdmann said the housing authority has set a goal of June 30, 2018, for the last of the tenants to be relocated. Without an extension, the June date would take the housing authority beyond the 210 days mandated by HUD to complete the relocation. Early projections of having all residents out by year's end turned out to be overambitious.

And while residents are able to secure HUD-approved housing almost anywhere in the U.S., most have opted to stay in the New London County area. Erdmann said he expects to move tenants out building by building, starting with the most deteriorated, the stand alone building C, which is the farthest from the boiler.

There is continued concern among residents that the problems in the past with a lack of hot water while the heat is being used will continue this winter.

Eventually, Erdmann said, the property will be sold to the city, for the appraised price of $185,000. The city must then deal with the cost of the demolition and future development.

The tenant protection voucher process started with an application filed last August. The housing authority under former executive director Roy Boling, was notified in October that the application had been accepted.

New London Mayor Michael Passero, who has been heavily involved in the process, praised the work of Jennifer R. Gottlieb-Elazhari, the director of HUD’s Connecticut Office of Public Housing, and Authority Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Betsy Gibson for their work throughout the process.

“New London families will now have an opportunity to access the housing they deserve,” Passero said in a written statement. “This grant will open the doors to safe, quality housing which will serve as a foundation for a strong future for our community.”

g.smith@theday.com

 

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