NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk Housing Authority officials watched Tuesday evening as Common Council members appeared to consider doing something one veteran said would be unprecedented – refuse to approve the NHA’s certificate of consistency.
“If the plan is not approved and does not go up to HUD (Housing and Urban Development) tomorrow, funding will be impacted across the board for the Housing Authority,” NHA Director of Housing Operations Krasimira Carlucci said. That would probably mean cutbacks, she said.
A freshman council member said she was drawing on her personal experience as a South Norwalk social worker in expressing concern about the application, but also cited a problem of process.
“How can they vote on something when they don’t even know the whole discussion?” Sharon Stewart (D-At Large) asked.
Stewart was referring to the Dec. 11 meeting of the Planning Committee. Falling snow forced the cancellation of the Jan. 2 meeting and the committee did not get to continue the discussion it had begun with NHA officials, part of the process of sending the matter to the entire council with a recommendation for approval.
Council members were therefore under the gun to approve the certificate without studying it thoroughly, as NHA needed the certificate by Jan. 15 – Wednesday.
“I recall the last council where we were always backed into a corner,” Councilman David Watts (D-District A) said. “’If you don’t approve, something terrible is going to happen,’ and that’s not fair.”
Stewart’s issue concerned tenant-based vouchers versus project-based vouchers.
There are 680 tenant-based vouchers authorized in Norwalk, Carlucci said. The people who hold those “can move to Hawaii if they want to,” she said, meaning the clients can go anywhere.
There are 136 project-based vouchers, she said. Those people live in Monterey Village, she said. The vouchers authorize them for space in that complex.
There are 200 moderate rehab vouchers, she said. Those are used in Colonial Village.
“The city of Norwalk is actually very unique in its handling … of our vouchers,” Carlucci said of the Housing Authority. “We have a two-tiered system in an effort to deconcentrate. We encourage our applicants and our current residents who are holders or who are going to become voucher holders to move on to higher income areas so that they have a better opportunity across the board.”
The certificate of consistency would certify that the NHA is in alignement with a five-year plan to reduce public housing in the city.
Councilwoman Phaedrel “Faye” Bowman (D-District B) asked about a goal delineated in the plan: the demolition of Roodner Court and Meadow Gardens.
“The Norwalk Housing Authority intends to explore opportunities including the voluntary conversion, demolition and disposition and financing for the improvement and stabilization of Roodner Court and Meadow Gardens,” Carlucci replied. “One of the ways we are thinking of doing that is looking into converting a portion of the tenant-based Section 8 vouchers for the redevelopment of public housing — Washington Village, Roodner Court and Meadow Gardens and Colonial Village.”
When 20 percent of the 680 tenant-based vouchers could be used that way, the board had voted to restrict it to 50, she said.
Bowman asked if that meant knocking down the buildings and moving the tenants elsewhere.
At that point, NHS President Curtis Law, who had said he was deferring to Carlucci and Norwalk Redevelopment Agency official Tami Straus as he hadn’t been part of the process of applying for the certificate, stepped up.
“That could be a possibility but we haven’t decided that yet,” he said.
Stewart requested a recess. Democrats went into their caucus chamber to hash it out while Republicans walked about. After about five minutes, the caucus door opened; Council President Doug Hempstead (R-At Large) and Majority Leader Jerry Petrini (R-District D) met the Dems and discussed the situation, particularly with Stewart.
When the meeting resumed, Hempstead took pains to give NHA officials the chance to explain that although the deadline for the certificate was Wednesday, there had been a lengthy process before it came to the council. That included a public comment period from Oct. 15 to Dec. 10, a Nov. 19 community meeting and a Dec. 11 public hearing on the results of that, officials said.
Law told Stewart that people with tenant-based vouchers can move anywhere in the city. “These vouchers are for private housing, not for housing that we own and manage,” he said.
Stewart said that wasn’t how it was explained to her in the December committee meeting.
“It was explained to us that when the people get their Section 8 vouchers they are going to be called into the office and they are going to be given a choice about whether they want to utilize their subsidized housing within the project … that’s where we have a problem because I don’t know anybody that gets a Section 8 voucher and wants to be moved within the project.”
Law said that isn’t how it works.
Bruce Kimmel (D-At Large) said he had reservations about the vouchers restricting people’s ability to move.
“If you come into that project with a project-based voucher … you can’t leave and take the voucher with you?”
Law said that is correct.
Kimmel said he wasn’t sure if council members had gotten the answers they had wanted, but he didn’t see anything objectionable as far as the certificate went. It would be discussed at the committee level, he said.
Petrini gave Stewart time to voice her concerns.
She said she wanted an agreement that her concerns would be addressed.
“We have people who have written letters trying to move from one project to another so they can get in line to get the right Section 8 so they can be in the ‘buy-a-house program’ and everything else, and all the letters that I have typed – I have typed letters for people – go on deaf ears. Nobody cares. These people are stuck in the projects and that is not where they want to be. I want to know what’s going to happen to these people,” she said.
Hempstead joined the chorus of Republicans nudging Democrats to vote for the certificate.
“We have never rejected, in my experience, anybody’s certificate,” he said. “It might not be good government for us to roll that dice. They have to come back again next year.”
The debate at a close, Mayor Harry Rilling said, “I want to thank the caucus for bringing issues out and for being concerned about the people that you represent in your area. Thank you to both sides for vetting this issue out and getting all these issues out for not only the public but for us to understand the whole process.”
The council voted unanimously to approve the certificate. Bowman abstained. John Kydes (D-District C) was not present.
“I’m agreeing because we still have some stuff to talk about, and they’re going to allow us to do that,” Stewart said after the meeting. “So we can make some changes.”