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WASHINGTON —U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) received a commitment from U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Julián Castro to assist the former residents of Church Street South in New Haven and to work to increase access to affordable housing for Connecticut residents. Murphy underscored the decrepit conditions that residents at Church Street South were forced to endure and requested that HUD continue to diligently work with Connecticut to resolve the problem. Murphy specifically asked for Secretary Castro to commit to rebuilding Connecticut’s affordable housing capacity, and to explore new ways to ensure that HUD’s Real Estate Assessment Center (REAC) is sufficiently working to provide families with housing that is decent, safe, and in good repair. The exchange occurred in a U.S. Senate Appropriations Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing with Secretary Castro.
“A HUD-funded project on Church Street South…is really in absolute decrepit condition, to the point where we’ve had to move residents out,” said Murphy. “I want to get your continued assurance that HUD is going to continue to work with us not just to move the residents out of that facility, but to then rebuild that affordable housing capacity [in New Haven].”
Secretary Castro responded, “You absolutely do have my commitment to continue to work with you both in ways that that process can be improved, and that we ensure we’re taking care of those residents.”
Murphy’s requests came after discovering that REAC – the HUD office that regularly assesses both the physical and financial health of properties, including Church Street South, that are owned, insured or subsidized by HUD – does not adequately assess hazards like black mold. In addition, Church Street South suffered from widely variable and inaccurate inspections by HUD, leading to the unacceptable delays in assistance for residents. Murphy plans to work with HUD to fix the office’s inspection criteria to ensure proper weight is given to environmental hazards such as black mold, lead hazards, and bed bugs and to make it more responsive to local residents.
Earlier this year, Murphy hosted Secretary Castro for a visit to Connecticut to highlight key federal partnerships throughout the state. During that visit, Secretary Castro discussed the crisis at Church Street South from Murphy, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro, and New Haven Mayor Toni Harp.
Highlights from Senator Murphy’s exchange with Secretary Castro are below:
Senator Murphy: “Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. Good to see you again, thank you very much for your visit to Connecticut about a month ago. You were very generous to spend a day with us, and we’re busy at work on many of the initiatives that you helped us launch and accentuate while you were there.
“I wanted to cover two topics with you this morning. One related to your visit, talk a little bit about HUD’s work with the city of New Haven to address the Church Street South project that you remarked on when you were there.
“You know the details – this is a HUD-funded project on Church Street South that is really in absolute decrepit condition, to the point where we’ve had to move residents out. Black mold, bedbugs, really bad, crumbling lead infrastructure are the main causes.
“And I guess my question to you is two-fold. I just want to get your continued assurance that HUD is going to continue to work with us not just to move the residents out of that facility, but to then rebuild that affordable housing capacity.
“But second, what we’ve learned is that the Real Estate Assessment Center, REAC, doesn’t really look at some of the conditions that were at the root cause of the problem in Church Street South. For instance, black mold, bedbugs, and lead don’t seem to be part of that assessment. And so, I know you’ve got a short amount of time left between now and the end of the president’s term, but are you thinking about ways to make these REAC assessments maybe mirror some of the real threats that a lot families are dealing with – mold and bedbugs at the top of the list – which are becoming, you know, real epidemic problems in places like Connecticut?
“So one, can we have your continued commitment to help solve this particular problem, and then, is there a reform of REAC that you’ll be working on?”
Secretary Castro: “Yeah, and let me just briefly say thank you and I enjoyed the visit to Connecticut, and having the opportunity to hear some of the concerns of folks throughout the state. And of course, we have been working on Church Street, we look forward to making sure that those residents have what they need in terms of Tenant Protection Vouchers.
“To answer your question just directly, the answer is that we do need to improve our REAC inspections process and I believe we make some of those improvements internally. On others, we may need legislative help. You brought up mold, for instance. It’s my understanding that one of the challenges that we have is that right now, the detection of mold does not trigger a negation, or a subtraction of points, to the degree that it probably should, and that we need to adjust the scoring system there, and that in this case and in some other cases that we’ve seen, that would help us be able to get to intervention or enforcement quicker.
“So we would like to work with you. You absolutely do have my commitment to continue to work with you both in ways that that process can be improved, and that we ensure we’re taking care of those residents.”
Senator Murphy: “I appreciate both of those commitments.”