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    Thursday, May 23, 2024

    Rep. Courtney proposes legislation to address mold, issues in public housing

    U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, is pushing for a federal mold standard and proposing legislation to help address the living conditions at Branford Manor, a federally subsidized housing complex in the City of Groton.

    Courtney said he plans to introduce legislation that would give the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development more enforcement tools to address situations, like at Branford Manor, where residents are complaining of mold. Courtney said there’s no mold regulation either at the state or the federal level, and that needs to change.

    “Tenant activism really has exposed the need for the law to change,” Courtney said Friday.

    Courtney explained that while current federal housing regulations provide a road map for HUD to use its enforcement powers to remediate 13 aspects of housing issues, such as indoor air quality, water supply, and lead-based paint, there is no standard for specifically remediating mold.

    He said awareness of mold is much higher than it was 10 or 20 years ago, but the law has lagged behind.

    HUD also is working on new standards, called the National Standards for the Physical Inspection of Real Estate (NSPIRE), that prioritize “health, safety, and functional defects over appearance,” support “the adoption of sound, year-round maintenance practices,” and incorporate resident surveys, the federal agency said in a statement earlier this week.

    “The Department’s focus is on ensuring safe, decent, affordable homes for all the people we serve,” the agency said in statement Friday. “The NSPIRE inspection standard that is in development now incorporates a standard for the identification and classification of “mold-like-substance” observed during the inspection. Our existing inspection standards also allow inspectors to note deficiencies related to mold.“

    According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website, ““Standards or Threshold Limit Values (TLVs) for airborne concentrations of mold, or mold spores, have not been set. Currently, there are no EPA regulations or standards for airborne mold contaminants.”

    Courtney’s office said in a news release that the proposed comprehensive legislation will encompass “requiring more frequent and comprehensive HUD inspections of private properties in which tenants receive federal housing vouchers, supporting property owners to make fixes needed to keep units in a state of good repair, creating a streamlined reporting system for tenants, and supporting HUD’s work to create a federal mold standard.”

    Courtney, who said he will continue to stay in contact with HUD, said in a statement the Branford Manor issue “has exposed some real gaps in housing policy—chiefly, that a nationwide federal standard on mold safety has never actually been established for HUD-supported housing.”

    He added that “HUD needs that sort of solid standard so that they’ve a baseline to measure remediation efforts against, and so they can take action when situations like this arise.” The legislation would provide “building owners with the resources to make fixes, and tenants with an avenue to make their voices heard if they’re living in unsafe conditions.”

    Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., who held a press conference at Branford Manor, and Chris Murphy sent a letter to HUD this week calling for the federal agency to overhaul its standards to better detect issues in public housing.

    The town and city recently voted to hold Related Companies, the owner of the housing complex, in default of a tax incentive agreement and to give the owner 30 days, from the compliance date, to address each violation.

    Related said in a statement earlier this week that its “entire focus is on taking the aggressive measures necessary to ensure that the current issues at Branford Manor are addressed so that residents feel safe and comfortable in their homes. We will continue to stay in constant communication with HUD, the City and Town of Groton including the mayor, local officials and agencies, as well as state officials, regarding the comprehensive strategy and progress to ensure all of the necessary repairs are completed as quickly as possible.”

    k.drelich@theday.com

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