“Empowering Choice” project provides technical, bilingual legal and relocation information and assistance to residents.
Over the past year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has officially terminated the contracts for rental subsidies for 286 units of housing constituting the Clay Arsenal Renaissance Apartments (CARA), Barbour Gardens, and Infill in Hartford’s North End due to conditions that threatened residents’ health and safety. The affected families were given access to relocation assistance and housing vouchers, which theoretically can be used anywhere in Connecticut. However, similar relocation scenarios, both in Connecticut and across the country, have illustrated the significant barriers to mobility that confront residents moving out of public or subsidized housing in high-poverty, resource-poor areas of racially and economically segregated metropolitan regions. These residents have a right to move to communities with lower rates of poverty and greater diversity but often are unable to do so because of entrenched, structural forces that perpetuate segregation by race and income.
The contract terminations that prompted the current relocation were largely the result of grassroots organizing of the residents of the three complexes spearheaded by the Christian Activities Council (the Council). Since that time, the Council and Open Communities Alliance (OCA), a Connecticut non-profit civil rights organization focused on addressing racial segregation and opportunity isolation through a particular focus on housing policy, have received requests from resident leaders for leadership training, legal assistance, and technical advice to navigate the complex housing situation and relocation process. In response to these requests, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving has awarded $220,000 over three years to the Christian Activities Council in collaboration with Open Communities Alliance to support the “Empowering Choice” project that provides technical, bilingual legal and relocation information and assistance to residents.
“We are grateful for this support from the Hartford Foundation at a critical time in our No More Slumlords Campaign,” said Christian Activities Council Executive Director Cori Mackey. “Helping residents organize for decent, safe, and sanitary living conditions was the first goal. When we realized the owners were unwilling to make needed investments, relocation became the only option. Many residents want to stay in Hartford, in the neighborhoods they love, and others want to move to other neighborhoods outside of Hartford or outside of Connecticut. Unfortunately, the relocation process is ripe with discriminatory practices and residents face one obstacle after another as a result of the very intentional barriers put before them by a legacy of housing discrimination and systemic racism.”
Open Communities Alliance is providing legal expertise, consultation with residents, and national civil rights experience. The Christian Activities Council will provide leadership training and ongoing support and outreach to residents.
“We are deeply grateful to the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving for recognizing the extent to which the current experiences of residents in Hartford’s North End are in fact a continuation of structural barriers that have for decades undermined revitalization that is responsive to community needs while at the same time limiting housing choices for residents in a manner that perpetuates segregation,” said Erin Boggs, Executive Director of Open Communities Alliance. “This generous support enables us, in collaboration with our highly skilled and courageous partners at CAC, to provide vital guidance and advocacy services for residents on a continuous basis and in real-time as they contend with the many challenges of relocating under tight time constraints in a voucher program and rental market that for many are unfamiliar.”
In addition to the experience and resources offered by the Council and OCA, the collaborative team includes the pro-bono services of the Yale Law School Housing Clinic, as well as ongoing support from Greater Hartford Legal Aid and the Connecticut Fair Housing Center.
“This collaborative effort supports the Foundation’s strategic focus and commitment to community and economic development by investing in places to provide residents with opportunities and resources to move into the housing of their choice,” said Community Investments Officer Dawn Grant. “This grant also makes it possible to produce more impactful outcomes than those that each organization could accomplish on their own.”
The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving is the community foundation for Hartford and 28 surrounding communities. Made possible by the gifts of generous individuals, families and organizations, the Foundation has awarded grants of more than $758 million since its founding in 1925. For more information about the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, visit www.hfpg.org or call 860-548-1888.