Letter: Developer plans fair housing complaint against city

 Editor's Note: A local developer whose affordable housing proposal was recently denied based on an affordable housing moratorium plans to file a formal complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Richard Freedman, president of Garden Homes Management Corp., which wanted to build housing on Bic Drive, wrote to Timothy M. Robison, director of the Office of Fair Housing & Equal Opportunity, July 7.

Following is the content of the letter:

Dear Mr. Robison:

We are owners and developers of rental housing throughout the Northeast. I write today regarding an affordable housing project proposed by our company that was recently denied by the Milford Planning & Zoning Commission under circumstances that compel me to contact your agency.

Our project, a 257-unit multifamily rental comprised entirely of studio and one-bedroom units, was proposed under Connecticut’s Affordable Housing Land Use Appeals Act, typically referred to by its statutory section, 8-30g. In municipalities like Milford with a deficit of affordable housing, 8-30g allows developers to propose projects that do not conform to local zoning if at least 30% of the units are set aside as affordable for 40 years. If an 8-30g proposal is rejected, the burden of proof on appeal is on the town, not the applicant. Construction of our project would have brought  77 units of affordable housing to Milford, an enormous number as will become clear below.

In May, after a year of preparation and uniformly positive staff reviews, several days before filing our application we learned of an act passed in secret, only hours before the end of the Connecticut legislative session, that blocked all 8-30g affordable housing applications in Milford, and Milford alone. The legislation, enclosed, was not subject to public notice or public hearings and was attached to “An Act Implementing Provisions of the State Budget for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30, 2015”; in other words, at the last possible minute it was slipped into a massive, unrelated bill necessary to implement the state budget that had to be signed into law. It was.

The act’s genesis was a mystery until the four state legislators representing Milford – State Senator Gayle Slossberg and Representatives Kim Rose, Paul Davis and James Maroney – held a press conference to announce their handiwork. Senator Slossberg said “You asked for relief and help and we heard you, and we got it done. We have delivered that relief.” Representative Davis said “Gayle has one of the great legal minds and was able to pass this.” The “relief,” of course, was to block all affordable housing applications in Milford, a direct response to public opposition to one particular application; the opposition prominently included Senator Slossberg. The act had the  immediate effect of stopping at least two affordable housing applications, including ours, and several more awaiting filing. While the legislators went to great pains to stress their support for “appropriate” affordable housing, none has any record of promoting the creation of affordable housing in Milford. They also pledged to work towards a “permanent solution” and a “plan for housing”, which Senator Slossberg recently unveiled: an extension of the time period of the moratorium blocking affordable housing applications. There was no mention of any program to actually produce affordable housing.

The handiwork of the legislators, however, could not succeed standing alone. The City had to collaborate by enforcing it, which it has despite profound questions as to the act’s appropriateness, constitutionality and applicability. The City has steadfastly insisted that it will no longer accept affordable housing applications, and our application was denied unanimously on such grounds.

Were this any municipality in Connecticut, the fact pattern would be troubling enough. However, the City of Milford has an ugly, recent history of government-promulgated housing discrimination spurred by public opposition, mirroring present day events. In the mid-1990’s the Milford Housing Authority halted acquisition of federally-funded, scattered site public housing in response to public opposition to occupancy by Black and Hispanic residents. The U.S. Department of Justice intervened, alleging “intentional and willful” conduct by the City, precisely their current conduct. The City and Housing Authority eventually signed a consent decree agreeing to reinstate acquisitions and halt discriminatory rental practices. The consent decree references the striking differences in the minority populations of Milford versus its neighbors, differences that have changed little since. According to the 2010 census, Milford has a combined Black and Hispanic population of 7.8%; the nearby cities of West Haven, New Haven and Bridgeport have corresponding populations, respectively, of 37.9%, 62.8% and 72.8%.

Even more troubling, Milford is a Community Block Development Grant entitlement community, and as such receives an annual grant allocation from HUD ($441,457 in 2013-14) in return for making certain representations. Numerous documents submitted by the City to justify receipt of such funding repeatedly reference the pressing need for affordable housing. Annual Action Plans, year after year, candidly admit the lack of progress in constructing affordable housing. The facts speak for themselves: Of Connecticut’s 22 block grant entitlement cities and towns, Milford has the fourth lowest percentage of affordable units according to state figures. Furthermore, not one unit of affordable housing has been added in Milford since 2006 - that is, until now.

On June 27, 2014 we received a certificate of occupancy for Cascade Apartments, a 36-unit rental apartment consisting of 14 affordable and 22 market units located at 117 Cascade Boulevard in Milford. We built the project on land not zoned for multifamily after approval pursuant to 8-30g by the Planning and Zoning Commission, to give credit where credit is due. While 8-30g requires 30% of the units be set aside as affordable, we voluntarily exceeded this requirement and set aside 40% of the units as affordable. Demand has been intense and the building was half rented prior to issuance of the C.O. Projects approved under 8-30g must have an affirmative fair housing marketing plan, and eight of the first 21 leases signed or awaiting signature – 38% - were to Black or Hispanic residents. It is an outstanding example of high quality affordable housing, and I encourage representatives of HUD to take a tour and see for themselves. I would also encourage you to view Fairchild Apartments in Fairfield, a similar 8-30g project nearly complete in which, as  you know, your agency played a dispositive role in our settling the appeal of the project’s initial denial.

Cascade Apartments was conventionally financed and constructed without tax credits or public subsidies of any kind; the only government action necessary was a zoning approval. As the approval would not have been possible without 8-30g, the project lays bare a stark fact: The only affordable housing added in Milford in the last eight years was constructed pursuant to 8-30g. So in blocking 8-30g applications, the state delegation and the City eliminated the one tool that actually produced affordable housing.

The recent actions by Milford’s elected officials, however, are beyond discriminatory and bad public policy. They call into question the sincerity of representations made by the City to secure federal funding and whether the City should receive such funding going forward. The 2013 CAPER states “The greatest obstacle to fair housing choice, as outlined in the Analysis of Impediments, continues to be the lack of affordable housing for low and moderate-income households.” In the 2013 Annual Action Plan, the current mayor, Benjamin Blake, signed a certification affirming the City’s commitment to affirmatively further fair housing. In light of recent events, the mayor’s certification is disingenuous, to say the least.

On the basis of the foregoing, I request that your agency inform me as to the procedure for filing a formal fair housing complaint against the City of Milford.

Very truly yours,

Richard K. Freedman

Cc: Benjamin Blake, Mayor

Thomas Ivers, Department of Community and Economic Development

David Sulkis, City Planner

Jonathan Bercham, Corporation Counsel