NORWALK, Conn. — Mayor Harry Rilling’s proposed City government reorganization has an element that is outrageous, according to one Fair Housing Advisory Commission member.
The proposal would create a Chief of Community Services, who would oversee a Fair Rent, Fair Housing and Human Relations director. This would merge two departments, combining the Fair Housing Officer position, currently held by Margaret Suib, with the Human Relations & Fair Rent Department Director position, currently held by Adam Bovilsky.
“It’s appalling; we just did a study last year that reminds us of how important this Commission and the position of Fair Housing Officer is,” Fair Housing Advisory Commission member Jalin Sead wrote to NancyOnNorwalk in a Tuesday email. “Margaret Suib, has been doing a great job; and has been undermined by this administration for far too long.”
“The ReOrg is not about Margaret Suib’s job performance – as with the rest of the proposal, it is about how to better align city functions,” Assistant to the Mayor Laoise King wrote in a late evening email. “Contrary to what Jalin may assume, one of the reasons the mayor is proposing combining functions into one office is so that both departments function more effectively, specifically because this function is so vital. The mayor believes this will greatly improve the experience for residents who are seeking assistance from the city on housing matters.”
Rilling has proposed changing the City’s organizational chart to “align city resources and employees in to a more rational and efficient organizational structure that represents the needs and functions of a modern city,” reducing the Mayor’s “direct reports” from 20 to nine.
The Common Council Ad Hoc Committee charged with considering the reorganization is slated to meet Wednesday, with the agenda specifying a “review of anticipated efficiencies of the Mayor’s proposed reorganization” and an executive session for a “personnel discussion.”
“The way the Reorganization plan looks like Margaret’s position will be taken away and combined with another position,” Sead wrote, replying to a NancyOnNorwalk inquiry. “The reason I feel that this is outrageous is because, since I was appointed to the Fair Housing Advisory Commission, Bob Barron has made it extremely clear that he feels that this Commission and the Fair Housing Officer is unimportant. With Norwalk rapidly growing and Gentrification spreading like the Plague; we need the voice of Margaret more than ever. The lack of support is quite disturbing, since many other people seem to get raises while this vital asset to the elderly, poor, and disenfranchised seems to be undermined.”
Sead was appointed in March 2016.
King said in her email that Sead had not reached out to her or Rilling to ask about the reorg, and offered what she called “clarifications:”
“With the Human Relations Director position being recast as Chief of Community Services, there is an opportunity to better align housing issues within the human relations/fair rent office. As most folks know, we have an office and staff in city hall that deals with fair rent (landlord/tenant issues), and a separate office in another building (the health department) supervised by the redevelopment agency that handles fair housing (housing discrimination). We hear from constituents that it is very confusing for them to know where to go and what the difference is between these offices. It causes confusion and multiple trips and calls for some of our most vulnerable residents (as Jalin points out – most people seeking this type of assistance are poor, elderly and disenfranchised). The mayor believes there should be one housing office for residents to come to when any type of housing issue arises.
“… The reasons Jalin states (increasing concerns about gentrification, availability of affordable housing, conditions of rental housing) are the exact reasons the mayor has included this proposal on the ReOrg plans. It is consistent with the effort to ensure like functions are grouped appropriately to increase effectiveness and navigability of city government. Margaret has long advocated for her position coming over to the city side (rather than being in redevelopment) and this is our best chance to make that happen.”
Fair Housing Commissioner Daisy Franklin, at Wednesday’s Democratic Town Committee meeting, asked Rilling where the Fair Housing department and the Fair Housing Officer stands.
“We are still debating that,” Rilling replied. “As far as I know right now, there won’t be many – there won’t be any change for, uh, any significant change in that office. Yeah, I had a conversation this morning about that.”
Suib’s position was created via a 1986 court order.
“The Fair Housing Office, celebrating its 30th year in 2016, is a result of an action brought by the Norwalk Branch NAACP against the City of Norwalk,” then-Norwalk Branch NAACP President Darnell Crosland wrote in a 2016 open letter to the Board of Estimate and Taxation regarding the Fair Housing Office budget for FY 2016/17. “The settlement agreement/court order from that action is called the Second Amended Consent Decree (SACD). We are proud of this great achievement.”
Crosland’s letter was titled, “City should fund Fair Housing Office.”
“The SACD requires that Norwalk fund the Fair Housing Office, which includes paying the salary and benefits of the Fair Housing Officer (FHO) and providing support services. The City has not provided support services in recent years,” Crosland wrote.
NancyOnNorwalk reached out to current NAACP leaders Tuesday but was not successful in getting a response.
King, in her Tuesday evening email, wrote:
“The court order does not address whether the position reports to the city or redevelopment nor whether it is a stand alone office or combined with other housing efforts. We believe the we can accomplish a more streamlined delivery of services within the bounds of the consent decree, and are hopeful we will be able to move forward with this with the support of the Fair Housing Commission and the NAACP. If the council approves moving forward with the proposal we will work out the details with the stakeholders. There is no intent here to diminish the functions nor the importance of the position, merely an effort to realign and make the services more convenient and logical for those seeking assistance.”