HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has perpetuated racial segregation in Connecticut’s capital by failing to help poor Black and Hispanic families living in dilapidated, federally subsidized housing move to better neighborhoods in the city and suburbs, residents allege in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.
The complaint was filed in federal court by 10 former residents of three housing complexes in Hartford’s North End and by the nonprofit Center for Leadership and Justice.
HUD terminated contracts with the buildings’ owners in 2018 and 2019 that had paid them millions of dollars, amid pressure from local organizations that said conditions at the complexes were inhumane. The contract involved Clay Arsenal Renaissance Apartments, Barbour Gardens Apartments and the Infill I complex.
The buildings, which housed about 250 families, had rats, mice, cockroaches, mold, exposed wires, flooding, blocked emergency exits and missing toilets, the groups said.
HUD gave tenants relocation vouchers under the Section 8 program and was supposed to provide services aimed at helping them move to better neighborhoods, ones with less poverty, racial segregation and violence.
But HUD failed to do that, and many of the tenants ended up moving to other poor, racially isolated neighborhoods, according to the 10 former residents and the Center for Leadership and Justice, founded in 1850 to help the poor and new immigrants in the state capital.
“HUD is violating its duty to counteract segregation, maintaining the cycle of poverty and hardship in marginalized communities and demonstrating clear violations of the Fair Housing Act,” Thomas Silverstein, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement.
“By concentrating subsidized housing in North Hartford, HUD has maintained racial division within the region,” he said. “The civil rights community will continue to fight for fair housing for all.”
Rhonda Siciliano, a public affairs officer for HUD’s New England region, declined to comment Wednesday, citing pending litigation.
Silverstein is an attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, one of several organizations representing the plaintiffs. The other groups include the Open Communities Alliance, the Covington & Burlington law firm and the Yale Law School Clinical Program.
One of the tenants, Ashley Matos, lived at the Infill complex from 2011 to 2019 and said there were problems with mice, water leaks and electrical equipment. She also said she was terrified when she saw a fatal shooting in broad daylight as children played outside nearby.
She wanted to relocate to a safer neighborhood in another town, she said, but HUD didn’t help her do that, and she ended up moving to another Hartford neighborhood with high poverty.
“I dreamed of moving out of Hartford along with my kids into a clean apartment where my infant could crawl all over the floor and we wouldn’t have to worry about mold, circuits turning up on fire, but that just turned into a dream,” she said at a news conference Wednesday.
The lawsuit is seeking class action status on behalf of all residents who lived at the three complexes and received HUD relocation vouchers. The neighborhoods are 2% white, and HUD has described them as some of the poorest in the country.
Among other things, the plaintiffs are asking a judge to order HUD to allow them to break their current rental agreements; to help them move to less poor, less racially isolated neighborhoods; to make more subsidized housing available in less racially concentrated neighborhoods; and to prohibit HUD from subsidizing other buildings in racially concentrated areas of the Hartford area without obtaining the approval of a judge and the plaintiffs.
The lawsuit also alleges HUD has failed over the years to make subsidized housing available to low-income families in Hartford’s wealthier suburbs like Avon, Farmington and Glastonbury, where about 80% of residents are white. Instead, a disproportionate number of subsidized housing units are in Hartford.
As an example, the lawsuit says Glastonbury has a population of more than 34,000, five times more people than Hartford’s Clay Arsenal neighborhood. But Clay Arsenal has nearly three times the number of subsidized housing units as Glastonbury, the plaintiffs say in the lawsuit.
“At virtually every decision point where the defendants could have chosen to make desegregation and true housing choice a real option for the families who were interested in accessing areas with strong schools and safe streets, they opted to disregard their duties under the Fair Housing Act,” said Erin Boggs, executive director of the Open Communities Alliance.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Rep. John Larson, both Connecticut Democrats, said they support the lawsuit.
Blumenthal and U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, also a Connecticut Democrat, toured Barbour Gardens last year and called the living conditions deplorable. All three sent a letter in January to HUD Secretary Ben Carson, asking for improved oversight of Section 8 housing.
“HUD has failed the people of the North End of Hartford,” Blumenthal said in a statement Wednesday. “HUD also ignored their legal responsibility to break up pockets of poverty. They could have done the right thing, instead thumbed their noses at the law.”