Housing Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

SB-320

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING THE SELECTION OF TENANT COMMISSIONERS.

Vote Date:

3/11/2010

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable Substitute

PH Date:

3/4/2010

File No.:

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Housing Committee

REASONS FOR BILL:

To increase tenant participation in the selection of tenant commissioners of housing authorities.

Substitute language: Defines a “tenant of the authority” (lines 3-6) and explains that a neutral third-party will be used to administer elections (lines 119-123).

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

Mary Mushinsky, State Representative, 85th District In Wallingford, local tenants have stated that the tenant representative could become a bolder voice it not beholden to the appointing power of the housing authority. At various times in the history of our local housing authority, decisions were made to sell off affordable units (over the strenuous objection of the tenants who lived there), limit public question and answer opportunities at meetings, and limit the ability of a newly formed tenants' organization to recommend a tenant representative. In a recent example in Wallingford, tenants were not asked for suggested names or even notified that there was a vacancy on the housing authority. This legislation would use the democratic process- a tenant organization election- to ensure the tenant's representative is truly the choice of the tenants. This process could be supervised by a local civic organization such as League of Women Voters and the small cost could be paid for by membership fees to the tenant organization or federal HUD funds.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Patricia Hogan, Wallingford Housing Authority Tenant Commissioner The current process of electing tenant commissioners is not done by the tenants even though many tenants support the nominated representative(s). In Wallingford, only the Democratic Town Committee and the Town Council have a vote in electing a tenant commissioner. This process in its current form, is disallowing any resident participation in the choice of the only commissioner who could truly identify with residents, this practice further increases their alienation, futility, and disempowerment. Tenant commissioners statewide, surrounded by board members who are often out of touch with how their decisions actually impact the residents' living conditions and quality of life need your favorable action on the proposed legislation.

Ana Estrada, Tenant Council Board Member at Community Towers in Meriden and Board Member of the Public Housing Resident Network (PHRN) This legislation would allow for residents to determine who will best represent their interests through a democratic process and having a forum to hear from all candidates. It sends a clear message to the resident commissioner that their constituency is the residents. It gives the residents the right to not only hold that commissioner accountable, but to also support that commissioner when he/she is working in their best interests. This legislation will make residents an ongoing part of the process and will give them a stronger voice in the policies that impact their lives.

Donna Hamzy, Legislative Associate, Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) This legislation would allow tenants residing in units owned or managed by a housing authority to form a tenant organization that would recommend tenants for appointment to tenant commissioner. CCM supports greater tenant participation in the selection of tenant commissioners of housing authorities. However, such appointments should not reduce municipal appointments.

Jeffrey Freiser, Executive Director, Connecticut Housing Coalition Each housing authority in the state is governed by a board of commissioners, usually compromised of five members, although the largest housing authorities may have seven member boards. C.G.S. Section 8-41 requires that one commissioner of a five member board be a tenant of the housing authority, and that two commissioners of a seven member board be tenants. All across Connecticut, residents of public housing are actively involved in making their communities better places to live. They care deeply and work hard to improve the conditions of public housing. They want their children to live in an environment that is safe and decent. And they expect that a tenant who is serving on the housing authority's board of commissioners will truly provide a tenant's voice, offering the tenants' prospective in the deliberations of the local authority. Public housing tenants want and deserve the right to elect the tenant commissioner who is supposed to represent them. At most housing authorities tenant commissioners will continue to be appointed through the current procedures. But where tenants seek to participate, and when they want to choose who will represent them, they should have the right to an election.

Alberta Witherspoon, Board Member of the Public Housing Resident Network Residents need to have the right and ability to determine who can best represent them. The decision should not be made by a mayor or a town selectman. Currently in New Haven, the resident commissioner does not fight for the tenants and votes in favor of everything the housing authority wants to do. This legislation would send a message to all public housing residents that they are not second class citizens and their voice is important.

Raphael L. Podolsky, Legal Assistance Resource Center of Connecticut, Inc. Under Connecticut law, every housing authority board is required to have at least one commissioner who is a tenant of the housing authority. A tenant member is also required by federal law if the housing authority has any federally subsidized public housing. The purpose of these requirements is to make sure that tenants have an effective voice in decision making by the housing authority. In most towns the appointment of the tenant commissioner is treated as a political appointment, in the same manner as other local board appointments, and the tenant who is appointed is rarely a representative of the views of public housing tenants as a whole. As a result, the purpose of both state and federal law is being frustrated. This legislation requires; 1) if a town wide recognized public housing tenant association exists, it must be allowed to select the tenant commissioner, either through election by the tenants or if its by-laws provide, other means, 2) if there is no town wide tenant association, then the housing authority must hold an election upon receipt of a petition from the lesser of 10% of the public housing residents or 75 such residents, 3) if no petition is filed, then the appointing authority must give all public housing tenant associations an opportunity to recommend names. This legislation also eliminates the prohibition of the tenant commissioner's voting on rent increases.

Dorian Kreindler, Co-Organizer Wallingford Tenant Council and Member of the Public Housing Resident Network Tenants need to be included in the process of electing tenant commissioners to represent them on the housing authority board. An election process where commissioners are appointed by political affiliations rather than competence, concern for tenants' welfare, or righteous stewardship is very disconcerting. No one is better equipped than a tenant commissioner appointed of, by, and for the tenants to counter these inequities and vanquish the second class citizenship and disempowerment if residents. Unlike all other commissioners, the tenant commissioner has a special view enabling its bearer to reconcile a management and resident perspective in one position. It would also be beneficial to mandate a minimum of two tenant commissioners for every housing board.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

Neil J. Griffin Jr., Vice President of Housing and Legislation for the Connecticut Chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (CONN-NAHRO), and Executive Director of the Glastonbury Housing Authority Presently the Connecticut General Statutes provide a mechanism that allows for recommendations to be submitted by tenant associations. The burden of oversight of the authority rests with the appointing municipal authority. To remove their ability to select members of the commission, for which they have the ultimate oversight of, removes a core principal of accountability. The bill creates an unfunded mandate; the cost of holding an election would ultimately be incurred by the authority or municipality.

Kevin S. Nelson, Executive Director of the Stratford Housing Authority Its one thing to recognize a tenant organization and to have that organization recommend tenants for appointment to the local public housing authority, but it is an entirely different matter to have the tenant organization become the appointing authority. It puts the Authority Board in the position of serving two masters. The oversight of the public housing authority rests with the municipality. It is affected through the appointment of a Board of Commissioners. In Stratford, the Town Council appoints member to the Housing Authority Board. The position of Tenant Commissioner is one representing the interests of tenants through policy and not one of day to day resident advocacy. The municipality bears the burden and consequences of oversight, appointments to the Housing Authority board should rest with it. Since tenants, and tenant organizations, currently have the right to petition the appointing authority on behalf of a candidate for appointment as a Commissioner. There is no compelling reason to change the current successful process.

Reported by: Fred Stula

Date: 3/19/10