Colon Slams Slumlords, Praises Hill Model

Markeshia Ricks PhotoDrawing on her own story as a working single mother who ascended to the middle class, the co-chair of the Black & Hispanic Caucus called out slumlords and put high-end developers on notice that affordable housing needs to be part of their plans for the Elm City.

The chair, Hill Alder Dolores Colon, made that subject a focus of he annual Black & Hispanic Caucus’ “State of the City” address, which she delivered in the aldermanic chambers at City Hall Monday night.

Colon made the address personal, pointing out that she had the same challenges that many people face now when she came to the city in 1989.

She’d come to the city to get her undergraduate degree through a program for nontraditional students at Yale University, she recalled. A single mother,  she graduated in a down economy. So despite her Ivy League degree couldn’t find full-time employment.

She did eventually get full-time work at the Yale University Library. But she was paid so little that she was eligible for Medicaid and food stamps. Then office workers formed a union, which now goes by the name UNITE HERE Local 34. The union contract, won after a hard-fought strike, gave her the wages and benefits needed to join the middle class and eventually purchase a house with the help of Yale’s homebuyer program.

“As we continue the fight for jobs we must ensure access to affordable housing,” Colon. “I, myself, would not have made it without access.”

Colon said in 1991 she was able to rent a three-bedroom apartment at Trade Union Plaza on Dwight Street for just $90 a month. “Today, a three-bedroom apartment like I needed in 1991 for my family costs over $1,600 a month,” she said. “Ironically, apartments in luxury condos sit empty while New Haveners struggle to pay rent in dilapidated apartments that have absentee landlords.” (Trade Union Plaza had been a labor-supported cooperative that like similar nearby complexes eventually fell apart and was sold to a private owner.)

Colon said the city needs to act against such landlords who allow their apartments to fall into the kind of disrepair that New Haven has seen in her ward at Church Street South, and more recently, in the Edgewood neighborhood at 66 Norton St..

“No one should have to live with faulty plumbing or dangerous electrical systems,” Colon said.

Colon called for stronger deterrents from the legal system to ensure that tenants never have to deal with chronically leaky roofs thatlead to toxic mold that create generations of asthma suffers. She pointed out while the city welcomes new development, it doesn’t go unnoticed that much of the city’s recent success has been with high-end apartment development in downtown.

Now that development is starting to branch out to other parts of the city, particularly in neighborhoods where the unemployment rate is often high and the stock of decent and affordable housing low, she pointed to the Hill-to-Downtown model as the way forward. Colon, along with other Hill residents and alders, helped push developer Randy Salvatore to raise the amount of affordable apartments in that project from 10 percent to 30 percent. Money from the deal also is helping to fund a construction pipeline that will provide jobs for neighborhood residents and a neighborhood improvement fund, she said.

Colon said Hill-to-Downtown proves that the city can attract developers who want to revitalize the city while creating affordable housing and employment opportunities for residents. She touched on the plight of the city’s immigrant community in the “Age of Trump,” encouraging New Haven’s sanctuary city policies. She also noted the tough road ahead for a state struggling with a massive budget deficit and a tightly divided General Assembly. But she kept to her theme.

“I stand before you as the longest-serving Board of Alders member today as of June this year,” said Colon, who has served nearly 17 years. “I’ve successfully raised two kids, own my own home, and when I’m ready will retire with a pension.

“If we give our residents a leg up their successes will benefit us all. I shouldn’t be the only success case. Let’s make it happen for everybody.”

Click on the Facebook Live video below to see Colon’s full speech.

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posted by: NHVCyclist on April 17, 2018  8:03am

Want some answers?  Look down a few articles:

The city screwed this guy, really bad.  It’s difficult (and downright terrifying) to develop rental properties in New Haven, unless you are a large enough entity to cushion yourself against the insanity. (High-end example being Randy S, with Pike and Mandy taking the low road).

Also must be nice to have a pension - us in the under-40 crowd will never see that.  We’ll be busy throwing what should be our retirement savings at the insane Property Taxes that the BOA enables.

posted by: wendy1 on April 17, 2018  8:34am

Affordable housing and a housing first approach for “homeless” people is what we need.  We have enough housing stock to house the needy, the jobless, the poor but so far the will to do this is missing from the city’s agenda.  The wealthy are not interested in spreading it around as I tried to do in 2016.

posted by: 1644 on April 17, 2018  9:15am

New Haven trade unions sponsored Trade Union Plaza, and sold it to its tenants’ Co-operative in 1970, on completion.  The tenants quickly defaulted on their mortgage, and the eventually passed to HUD.  Under tenant and HUD ownership, the complex was in terrible condition.  In 1985, HUD sold the property to a private partnership (Union Plaza 85 Associates). Rents were NOT jacked up, but remained at HUD subsidized rates.  The partnership did, however, invest about $2 million and lots of sweat equity in the site cleaning piles of human waste, needles, etc. from the site, and making it a decent place to live.  Tenants who couldn’t comply with the rules or pay their subsidized rent were evicted.  Two partners lived across the street, and two more around the corner on George.  One of the partners worked on-site and ensured the place was maintained.  Colon’s low, $90 rent was because federal taxpayers paid the bulk of her rent.  The fact that she had a decent place to live at that low rent was because of its private owners.

posted by: OutofTown on April 17, 2018  10:43am

Why is it that some people want what others have, but don’t feel they need to contribute what others contribute?  Responsible people match their expectations with their productivity.  Otherwise, they pursue robin hood economics - i.e. take from the productive and give to the less productive.  Why?  Because government/politics allows it to be so.  Many are blind to the reality of the human condition.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on April 17, 2018  11:17am

So the ideal model of development is a Stamford-based developer rezoning a parcel from commercial business to residential in an area surrounded by vacant residential lots? And it’s considered a compromise when we leverage the state to increase its subsidy to the developer for including “affordable” units? The developer is not losing money on those units; its not eating into the bottom line; it’s not a concession; it’s a subsidy. That’s the ideal?

We need to get back to the basics of urban development, not figure out more ways to attract out-of-town developers with land deals, rezoning of industrial and business property, and state and federal subsidies for “affordable” housing.

posted by: NHVCyclist on April 17, 2018  11:25am

1644 - Thank you for that bit of history.

If that is the case, the Alder is doing a disservice to the people of New Haven by glossing over those facts.  She is implying that market rent for a 3-br apartment went from $90 to $1600 in less than 30 years.  That is clearly not the case.  She’s making people think they are being robbed, when in most cases, they probably aren’t.  I wouldn’t want to be the landlord of someone who thought I was charging $1600 when I should be charging $90+inflation - I doubt that tenant would respect the property.

New Haven rents for existing units have actually lagged far behind most other cost drivers in people’s lives (healthcare, education, transportation/fuel, etc) even while property taxes continue to rise. 
The only segments where rents are reaching new heights are in new apartment developments, which do not replace/displace existing units.  If anything, the new high-priced developments help keep prices of existing units down.

posted by: HewNaven on April 17, 2018  11:54am


Your helmet is on backwards.

posted by: Lucy with the football on April 17, 2018  12:13pm

It would be an ideal world if everyone was afforded the benefits of subsidized rent like the Alder. I personally know how hard it was to raise a child without access to any subsidies because my gross salary was $35 over the annual income limit. I was never able to buy a home and struggle every month to maintain housing. I represent a small minority of those who made just enough to be disqualified for any type of housing assistance to live in decent housing in New Haven. I will be transitioning to the next level of my life as a senior citizen and guess what…my estimated annual pension payment will be slightly over the limit by a couple hundred dollars. Has anyone ever thought about advocating for individuals like me?

posted by: wendy1 on April 17, 2018  12:23pm

@NHVcyclist——the city is good at screwing up and missing opportunities to do the right thing.  I met Ken Hill and side with him over the city.  As far as pensions go, people of all stripes and jobs need a safety net like that provided in other forward thinking western countries.  I lucked out royally with a pension lumpsum mostly gone now after 10 years and an inheritance which I shared as affluence is very ugly in a sea of poverty like NH.

posted by: 1644 on April 17, 2018  12:29pm

Cyclist:  Yes, Colon misleading people, and NHI is complicit in misleading people, too.  Colon never lived in a co-operative, and her rent was low only because the federal taxpayers were paying most of it.  Union Plaza 85 Associates was paid the same HUD dictated rents that the cooperative got (adjusted for inflation), but the private owners kept the place up and made a profit through various measures like installing more efficient boilers, stopping leaking pipes, actually collecting rents from tenants, and keeping outsiders out.

posted by: Timothy G. ORourke Jr. on April 17, 2018  1:40pm

It sounds to me like Ms. Colon vigorously applied herself while availing herself of programs that enabled her, only with her *hard work*, to become successful.  If we could only solely push the hard-work side of the things, instead of constantly claiming there are not enough services, perhaps we could get people more people in the middle-class.

posted by: FacChec on April 17, 2018  2:12pm

“Colon said the city needs to act against such landlords who allow their apartments to fall into the kind of disrepair that New Haven has seen in her ward at Church Street South, and more recently, in the Edgewood neighborhood at 66 Norton St..”

Exactly, Colon and the Alders are the ones that should be acting in this instance,not just talk about the problem as she does here. It Alders have the authority to call upon the building dept and LCI particularly, to investigate and issues fines and closures if necessary, in order to insure these issues are abated across the city with these recurring recalcitrant landlords. The Mayor nor the Alders make demands on these absentee felons.

posted by: HewNaven on April 17, 2018  2:29pm

Affordable rent for a minimum wage worker in CT = $525/month
Fair Market Rent for a 2BR in CT = $1,285/month

Until we PAY people enough to afford rent, we will have to SUBSIDIZE it. Can’t have it both ways.

posted by: wendy1 on April 17, 2018  2:53pm

Thank you HewHaven.  The bootstrapping theory does not work in this economy of few jobs.  And for many hardworkers their reward is min. wage, not enough to rent anything but cardboard on the sidewalk.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 17, 2018  3:24pm

Newark New Jersey has the best Model.They use inclusionary zoning ordinance which mandates that new projects with 30 or more residential units set aside 20 percent as affordable.

Newark adopts ‘groundbreaking’ affordable housing ordinance,

posted by: 1644 on April 17, 2018  4:35pm

HewHaven:  Minimum wage is good for teenagers.  Given that it cannot support a family, it would behoove anyone to gain a skill that pays a living wage and to get a spouse before starting a family.  Our schools, particularly the undersubscribed state technical schools, offer lots of opportunities.  Try getting a plumber or home improvement contractor.  It’s not easy.  In other lines, there are lots of openings in police and fire, and Metro-North is hiring to replace a retiring generation.  Gateway has a program specifically designed for Metro-North, and New Haven residents can attend tuition free with the New Haven Promise.  There is, also, of course, the military.  I met a lot of people in the Navy who got trained for lucrative career in nuclear power, construction, machining, welding, etc.

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on April 17, 2018  10:05pm

3/5ths, doing what Newark has done would require a change in state law. I think this is a good idea, but I’m not holding my breath.

Jonathan, rezoning industrial land is by no means a panacea to the shortage of affordable housing. But New Haven and most cities have far more industrially-zoned land than they can plausibly use. We agree that the Munson Street development is far from ideal. But if the parcel had not been rezoned, it likely would have remained derelict for years.

posted by: NewHavenerToo on April 18, 2018  4:34am

I respect Ms. Colon, but as someone who works in the housing subsidy for almost 20 yrs, there was NO WAY she was paying $90 /month in rent UNLESS it was subsidized.  At least make your point clearly and honestly.

posted by: 1644 on April 18, 2018  7:41am

NewHavenToo:  Yes, she is being misleading by not mentioning that the federal taxpayer was paying the lion’s share of her rent, and that the $90 was only her share, not her total rent.  Question: my understanding is that section 8 tenant’s generally pay one third of their income in rent, which would mean her income at the time would only have been $270 a month.  Or would the income on which her rent was based be reduced by dependent allowances?  In any case, she surely knows her rent was subsidized because she would have had to fill out paperwork to get the subsidy.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 18, 2018  7:53am

Meanwhile, a long-awaited affordable housing task force is finally being appointed to look at the broader issue of preserving and creating lower than- market-rate rental apartments in town.

As I said before.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on April 17, 2018 4:24pm

posted by: Kevin McCarthy on April 17, 2018 11:05pm

3/5ths, doing what Newark has done would require a change in state law. I think this is a good idea, but I’m not holding my breath.

You can also bring in developers like this.

Omni New York wins Developer of the Year for 2017 @ New York Housing Conference

Mo Vaughn’s Omni New York owns nearly 12000 housing units around the country, more than 4250 of which are in the Bronx.

posted by: NewHavenerToo on April 19, 2018  9:57pm

1644:  In actuality, It’s 30% of their (adjusted) monthly income and then utility allowances i.e. heat, hot water, general electric bill credit(s) are then subtracted from the 30% of the monthly income that was being counted and THAT is how her rent was $90.00

posted by: 1644 on April 20, 2018  6:20am

NewHavenToo:  Thanks.  BTW, heat was definitely included in the rent, and possibly electric.  Some rents were as low as $35 per month for the tenant’s share.  The subsidies encouraged people to do things that offend my “middle class sensibilities”.  For example, when the daughter of one tenant was 17 going on 18, she asked for her own apartment, wanting to move out from mom.  Told only two bedroom units were available, and that single people were not eligible for two bedroom units,  the girl promptly got herself pregnant.

posted by: NewHavenerToo on April 20, 2018  5:35pm

1644: although I have seen similar circumstances. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that she got herself pregnant to continue subsidizing someone in a 2 br unit.  While I understand the middle class sensibilities that fester upon hearing such stories, we also have to keep in mind how much more difficult it has become to pay the astronomical rents in New Haven.  $1600 for a 3 bedroom apartment in New Haven?  That is a mortgage, PLUS.