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Fernandez, Harp Spar Over LCI’s Fate

by Thomas MacMillan | Sep 6, 2013 6:10 pm

(27) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: Campaign 2013

Thomas MacMillan Photo Standing in front of a housing project plagued by mold and leaky roofs, mayoral candidate Henry Fernandez blasted rival Toni Harp’s proposal to dismantle the city agency that enforces housing code violations.

Fernandez (pictured) was responding to a comment Harp made to the Independent in an interview published this week. Asked about how, as mayor, she would cut costs in city government, Harp said she would disband the Livable City Initiative (LCI) and reassign its functions to other departments.

“I want to make it very clear that that’s wrong,” said Fernandez.

He was speaking from experience: Fernandez was brought into City Hall in 1998 to rout out corruption in LCI as its new director; he later oversaw the department as the city’s economic development director. He said LCI plays a vital role in keeping people safe in the city, and in helping shape re-development plans, like the ones afoot at the Church Street South housing projects, where Fernandez held his Friday afternoon press conference.

Harp responded that Fernandez wants to “live in the past.” She said she would continue the “vital purposes” of LCI, using other departments.

Harp and Fernandez—along with Kermit Carolina and Justin Elicker—are seeking the Democratic nomination to replace retiring 10-term incumbent Mayor John DeStefano. Democrats will head to the polls on Tuesday. Their Friday afternoon salvos are part of an uptick in aggression as the clock winds down toward Primary Day.

Church Street South, across from the train station on Union Avenue, has a history of problems, Fernandez noted. He said the roof and the walls leak, leading to mold. And the complex is plagued by rats and other vermin. As the chief agency in charge of housing code enforcement, LCI is tasked with making sure property owners fix problems like those at Church Street South. Breaking up the agency would be “going backwards” and would “put families at risk,” Fernandez said.

Read more here about Fernandez’s previous proposals on how to improve code enforcement.

Problems at Church Street South aren’t going to be fixed just by code enforcement, Fernandez said. The housing project needs to be torn down and redeveloped, he said, pivoting to a second argument for keeping LCI around.

LCI “brings together the development tools” that Church Street South needs for a successful rehab, Fernandez said. LCI is the main agency for the disbursement of state and federal development money including Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds. It’s the agency that works with housing organizations like Neighborhood Housing Services and Mutual Housing, and it employs neighborhood specialists who work closely with community groups, he said.

Church Street South needs to be reborn as a mixed use development as part of a connection between the train station, the medical district, and downtown that will create jobs and increase the tax base, Fernandez said. “Downtown begins right here.”

Fernandez said Harp’s call for disbanding LCI represents a conflict of interest, since the agency is responsible for inspecting properties belonging to her son’s business. That includes elderly housing on Rosette Street, where a recent visit exposed poor living conditions, including urine in the hallway and drug wrappers in the basement.

“What signal does she send when she says she would close down the agency that enforces the housing code?” Fernandez asked.

Harp’s call to disband LCI “reflects a misunderstanding of how you rehabilitate neighborhoods,” Fernandez said. “It reflects a lack of awareness of what LCI is and what it does.”

Asked for a response to Fernandez’s press conference, Harp declined to speak directly to the Independent. Her campaign emailed the following statement:

“It’s time for innovation and reorganization when it comes to LCI’s functions. My administration will absolutely continue the vital purposes of LCI but carefully evaluate whether, and how, to spread the job over other city departments. That’s the responsible thing to do. Given that LCI annually receives millions of dollars through programs like the federal Community Development Block Grant program that we may be able to use to address some of our community’s other needs, we at least need to be willing to look at redirecting those funds to where they can be most effective.

“For instance, we should be willing to use the money that LCI gets to directly help homeowners. Vulnerable populations such as the elderly, poor and those unable to get credit can all benefit from a new approach to using this money through grants, low-interest loans and other programs.

“The ‘Aging at Home’ concept is one that will be a focus of my administration. It’s a noble idea that keeps families together. Since funds are scarce, however, we need to take a look at whether some LCI funds can be better used there.

“There were some 1,500 blighted properties when LCI was started. It did a good job of reducing that number —there are now approximately 200. But we can’t live in the past as Mr. Fernandez wants to do by continuing to apply current money to old problems. City resources are scarce and we need innovative ways to accomplish the same objectives but with less money and less bureaucracy.”

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posted by: cedarhillresident! on September 6, 2013  6:36pm

ok not one to side with Henry but!!!!!

I live in a bad area and if not for LCI my community would be FAR worse! LCI has help us with dozens of major issues in my area. THey are a big part of trying to keep it livable! Grant it I miss Thelma ALOT she was the best LCI rep!!! She came to all our block watch meetings, saved people from losing there homes by helping them with the roof program and other things. Dumping problems in my area are major. Helping with abandon property’s, broken windows, break ins, squatters. Making sure that the most vulnerable are not being taken advantage of by landlords that are scumbags and holding them accountable! helping with community clean ups…and here is the big one….HELPING WITH SLUMLORDS! OMG I just realized why harp wants to dismantle it!

posted by: schummi on September 6, 2013  6:46pm

Of course she’ll disband the Livable City Initiative, what would be the first thing you would do if your family were slumlords and you were just elected mayor?!

posted by: beyonddiscussion on September 6, 2013  7:51pm

Ever try to reach someone by phone at LCI? Good luck. There’s a lot of waste and patronage in there that was padded out by Mayor John. I can’t believe how many people work at LCI for what they do!!  Great idea to take those tasks back out and have them done effectively in a streamlined way. Save lots of money and have them done better!

posted by: state st on September 6, 2013  8:11pm

The coronation has started.
ALL HAIL THE QUEEN.

posted by: Hieronymous on September 6, 2013  8:29pm

I’ve been waiting for this story, in light of the Morris Cove FD dust-up. I can’t claim to know whether LCI is indispensable or not, but the utter tone-deafness displayed by a candidate who’s come under fire (rightly or wrongly) for profiting from a family business that’s been labeled a slumlord choosing the city’s anti-blight/anti-slumlord agency as the one that should go is just breathtaking. And then to compound that astonishing slip with an easily disprovable attack on a competitor who’s pretty well able to defend himself, wow. I’d like to think that the last few inept days seals Jason Bartletts fate in campaign politics. But the sad fact it’s just as likely be gets the last laugh. She’s got the money and the foot soldiers and there’s a lot more people who vote by inertia than who educate themselves on the candidates and issues. I suspect that’s what Bartletts thinking, anyway, truth and integrity be damned.

posted by: anonymous on September 6, 2013  8:34pm

“Fernandez said Harp’s call for disbanding LCI represents a conflict of interest, since the agency is responsible for inspecting properties belonging to her son’s business.”

Exactly. And the owners of that business and its attorneys donated $3,800.00 to Harp’s campaign—not including money spent to host lavish fundraisers in Hamden—in the first campaign filing ALONE.

posted by: NewHavenerToo on September 6, 2013  9:01pm

Harp would disband LCI?  Well Ms.  Harp, it’s obvious that Ms. Harp does not know how it feels to live in sub-standard housing without the protections of Section 8.  Many families who cannot afford the ridiculous rents here in New Haven make do with what they can afford. Does that mean that based upon their lack of substantial income and not being blessed with housing subsidy mean that their plight is not to be taken seriously?  (Some) Landlords will have a field day once they figure out LCI is no longer on their back.  Another ” great” idea.  Thanks.

posted by: TheMadcap on September 7, 2013  12:04am

Gutting LCI because it worked and the number of blighted properties has been severely reduced? To quote Justice Ginsburg, that’s like throwing away your umbrella in the rain because you’re not getting wet. The only way this makes any sense is if you happen to have a family that’s in the slumlord business.

posted by: citoyen on September 7, 2013  1:53am

Headline: Toni Harp pledges that if elected, she will disband the city’s Livable City Initiative.

She has just handed Kermit a cudgel with which to hammer her over the remaining several days talking to voters in Dixwell, Newhallville, the Hill, and probably other places (West River, even Fair Haven).

posted by: robn on September 7, 2013  6:26am

Huh?!?

Candidate Harp, accused of benefitting from slum-like conditions at her family properties, vows to dismantle slum battling agency.

IRONY ALERT

posted by: robn on September 7, 2013  6:29am

Oh and BTW , the “aging at home” concept for which Harp is claiming authorship was started about 5 years ago by others in New Haven and is called Home Haven (aka East Rock Village).

posted by: FacChec on September 7, 2013  12:12pm

“There were some 1,500 blighted properties when LCI was started. It did a good job of reducing that number —there are now approximately 200”.

I have to first challenge that LCI has reduced blighted properties by 1,300 units..Over a period of what time frame…where is the validation….according to the city assessor’s office neighborhoods like the Hill, Dwight, Dixwell and Newhallville suffered from foreclosures and abandoned houses in 2008 to the present.

Additionally, the 2010 census reports that the number of vacant units across the city increased from 5,200 in 2000 to over 6, ooo in 2010. It is difficult to rationalize how blighted properties could be reduced and at the same time vacant units increase. Henry would be hard pressed to answer that.

More specifically to the question of the fate of LCI, I believe the department should remain however not under the umbrella of Economic Development who works at cross objectives. EC focuses on development downtown
And tends to pull LCI functions attentions and support dollars in that direction as well. CDBG federal funds could serve more purpose going directly to the problem area rater than be administered by LCI where 30% of the dollars are siphoned off for administrative cost. This is also true of the other departments who receive CDBG funds.

The community is short changed by city departments that do not plan, monitor, and May adjustments to the non-profits that do not produce results. One huge example of this failure is the community out-reach program, who police say is a non factor.

I support the reorganization of Economic Development, LCI, public works, community services, parks & recs, elderly, youth services and services to the disable, and finally the fire department.

More to come….

posted by: Over taxed,Taxpayer on September 7, 2013  12:43pm

It’s about time someone wants to clean up City Hall and eliminate departments that create division and place a major strain on city resources .
    Furthermore, livable city has evolved into a department that wants to displace - replace and victimize all landlords; instead of creating harmony between landlord and tenant - they come In like gang busters and exacerbate a problem that could of been resolved amicably; the end result is that both tenant and landlord are often victims.

posted by: citoyen on September 7, 2013  12:45pm

Heironymous,

As usual, I both agree with you and hugely admire your reasoned presentation and direct, clear tone.  But let’s remember, even if Harp and Bartlett overcome the mind-boggling errors they’ve committed the past few days, theirs will not necessarily be the (cynical) last laugh. It may be the penultimate laugh.

There will still be a November election to come.

posted by: citoyen on September 7, 2013  12:50pm

Oh, and by the way, beyonddiscussion,

Yes, I have in fact dealt with someone at LCI—including by phone—and she was superb at handling the problem.

posted by: WestvilleCitizen on September 7, 2013  3:38pm

LCI AND THE DEMOCRACY FUND - Harp is UNBELIEVABLE. She just comes right out and lets us know that her election would mean payback time for any who stood in her way.  NHI, please take this BULLY to task!

posted by: BenBerkowitz on September 7, 2013  9:46pm

“I would like to add a professional opinion as to the necessary function of LCI in New Haven’s operation. 

In my day job we have been able to help governments distribute constituent communication to many departments eliminating the need for a dedicated constituent service department or 311 as its called in many cities. 

New Haven is one of the best examples of a City that has distributed communication responsibility to various departments and individuals within those departments without adding cost. All in a time when many many more people feel empowered to communicate with their government.

For many LCI serves as a voice for those who are uncomfortable making a phone call to City Hall or reporting on SeeClickFix. That’s an invaluable service that should not be replaced. I hope that technology will destroy that hurtle for everyone someday but we are not there yet.

LCI also serves as code enforcement would in other cities. Traffic and Parking and Public Works are not set-up to do code enforcement and eliminating a dedicated department would be devastating particularly for the underserved in this city.

We see that the departments that deal directly with citizens in all cities are most likely to get heat.  Its expected. Our cities are underfunded and our costs are too high. We’re not all going to get what we need from our city because our City does not have the resources to give it to us.

LCI under past leadership was not what it is today. The transparent responsiveness of the department is commendable and we should all work with them to make it even better. ”

posted by: BenBerkowitz on September 7, 2013  9:48pm

To clarify on my last para: past leadership was not a jab at Fernandez in any way. Roles have changed hands a few times since Fernandez has left.

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on September 8, 2013  7:12am

Senator Harp is yet again correct on this issue.  If LCI is for code enforcement, it should do just that.  LCI is not currently capable of handling development and code enforcement.  If you want proof, Church Street South has been blighted for over five years and LCI has done nothing to remedy the problem.  It also badly fumbled and dropped the ball on 99 Edgewood after the project was given to Garfield Spencer, who was a donor to Mayor DeStefano and has a rather shady development past.  Indeed, LCI has become a place for cronyism - I believe LCI’s current director received his job because of his mother’s position at Yale.

So, Senator Harp wants to reallocate personnel and funds in a manner that is more in line with the current issues facing the City.  I say great! 

Be very clear, she is advocating making code enforcement more streamlined - not removing it as Mr. Fernandez suggests.  His desire to keep an organization that he ran and is now used for cronyism and handing out lucrative contracts also represents a conflict of interest.

posted by: Atticus Shrugged on September 8, 2013  7:15am

Also, with regards to LCI - it was reported by this Newspaper (e-paper?) that young Mr. Harp does not now, nor did he or his predecessor ever, have any significant LCI violations or infractions.  Indeed, it was reported that his properties consistently scored well with LCI and with HUD. 

That same cannot be said of many larger landlords in the City, many of whom are large donors to Mr. Fernandez.  Yet, I haven’t seen him take on any of Pike’s or Mandy’s troubled housing stock or talk about them.  Is there a conflict of interest there?  I think so!

posted by: Over taxed,Taxpayer on September 8, 2013  2:48pm

AS ONE WHO FREQUENTLY DEALS WITH LCI, I CAN TELL YOU THAT BEN BERKOWITZ’S COMMENTS ABOUT LCI’S RESPONSIVENESS AND TRANSPARENCY IS OUTRAGEOUSLY INCORRECT.SURE, IF A TENANT IS IN DEFAULT WITH THIER RENT, THEY ARE SIMPLY, AND SEEMINGLY ABLE TO FILE A COMPLAINT - AND GET AN LCI INSPECTOR OUT TO THE PROPERTY.
  AS A LANDLORD,HOWEVER,IT’S NOT THAT EASY; TRY CALLING THAT OFFICE , AND TRY SPEAKING TO THAT SAME INSPECTOR OR RAPHAEL RAMOS AND YOULL- GET FULL VOICE-MAILS MOST OF THE TIME, NOT FOR HOURS , BUT FOR DAYS AND WEEKS AT A TIME YOU’LL LITERALLY GET THAT FAMILIAR RECORDING SAYING, THAT RAPHAEL’S(AS WELL AS OTHER DEPT HEADS AND INSPECTORS)VOICE MAIL IS FULL.
    MOREOVER, THERE IS NO TRANSPARENCY, THESE INSPECTORS HAVE CARTE BLANCHE TO GO AROUND AND WRITE, CITE AND DO WHAT THEY WANT WITHOUT A STANDARD TO FOLLOW; EACH NEW INSPECTOR COMES WITH THEIR OWN SET OF RULES. YES, SOME ARE FAIR, BUT TO MANY ARE NOT AND THEY’LL CITE YOU WITH A 3 PAGE LAUNDRY LIST OF COSMECTIC ITEMS THAT IN MANY CASES WERE CAUSED BY A DELINQUENT TENANT, AND A TENANT WHO HAD RECENTLY PASSED AN INSPECTION.
  THE SAD PART ABOUT THIS , IS THAT ULTIMATELY EVERYONE PAYS THE PRICE;BESIDES CAUSING A CHASM AND DISSENSION AMONGST ALL INVOLVED PARTIES , THE ECONOMIC IMPACT IS STAGGERING,  RENTS GO UP- TAXES GO UP- PROPERTY VALUES DECLINE AND MANY GOOD AND VITAL SERVICES GET ELIMINATED.
  AS MY MOTHER USE TO SAY, “DON’T BITE THE HAND THAT FEEDS YOU”; I’M AFRAID THAT TOO MANY IN CITY HALL,WHICH INCLUDE J.D AND MANY OTHERS, HAVE NOT LEARNED THIS LESSON.

posted by: Stephen Harris on September 9, 2013  2:10pm

If Toni harp wants to shift LCI’s functions to other departments she’ll need to find some money in the budget since LCI is funded by the federal government, not city taxpayers. Does she know this?

posted by: robn on September 9, 2013  2:42pm

OTTP,

Commenting in ALLCAPS = yelling!

posted by: FacChec on September 9, 2013  2:57pm

posted by: Stephen Harris on September 9, 2013 2:10pm
If Toni harp wants to shift LCI’s functions to other departments she’ll need to find some money in the budget since LCI is funded by the federal government, not city taxpayers. Does she know this?

I can’t say if Harp knows your set of facts, however, LCI knows it receives three sets of city taxpayer funds..

City: 945K

Federal: 6,364K

Bond fund city: 1,120K

I just received confirmation of these FAC’s.

posted by: Edward Whalley, H.C.J. on September 9, 2013  3:02pm

@Stephen Harris. 

Harp has admitted on more than one occasion she has never actually read the New Haven City Budget.


@Atticus
Harp did not actually say she would streamline and incorporate LCI functions into other departments. 

Her campaign’s statement said she will “absolutely continue the vital purposes of LCI but carefully evaluate whether, and how, to spread the job over other city departments.”

If you don’t yet know “how” or even “whether” you will incorporate LCI’s functions in other departments - it’s hard to believe you actually regard those purposes as “vital.”

Her words. 

And who directly benefits from such a dismantling of LCI? 

Her family.  Her campaign contributors.
That’s her conflict of interest.

posted by: Hieronymous on September 9, 2013  3:46pm

FacChek, I’m continually amazed by how little your views are informed by the “FAC’s” you cite. Federal funds are not “city taxpayer funds,” even if they are derived from “taxpayers” who live in a “city.” Assuming your figures are correct, you’ve simply confirmed Stephen Harris’s point by illustrating that more than 75% of LCI’s budget comes from federal funding, which may not be available if LCI’s functions are shifted to other departments.

posted by: FacChec on September 9, 2013  4:32pm

@Hieronymous on September 9, 2013 3:46pm

That’s how little you know about Federal funds which are taxpayer’s dollars re-distributed back to local communities by the federal office of Budget & Management based a complicated formula of social and economic need; and further, based on census data collected in the previous census for the state and locality. CDBG, including home funds which primarily make up much of LCI grant monies are calculated using this formula. You should not be amazed by this U.S. renowned FAC.

Even if LCI is consolidated the federal funds will remain the same provided the congress approves that line item.

All dollars received by the local government are taxpayer’s dollars from wherever they are receipted, in FAC nearly fifty % of the % 503M City general fund budget is derived from the state of CT. The city itself does not send anywhere near that amount to the state government, but, because of need based on Census data New Haven, Hartford, Bridgeport and Waterbury receive back a disproportionate share of Connecticut taxpayer’s money.

You should not be amazed nor should you dispute these set of FACs.

You’re dismissed!

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