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Low-income residents in CT and beyond spend years on housing voucher waitlists

A construction worker moves paneling for the foundation of a building that will be part of Oak Grove - an affordable housing complex in Norwalk.
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public
FILE: A construction worker moves paneling for the foundation of a building that will be part of Oak Grove - an affordable housing complex in Norwalk.

Low-income residents across Connecticut, and other Northeastern states, spend years waiting for a housing voucher, officials say.

In Connecticut, the voucher waitlist has opened just twice in the last 17 years for new applicants, according to Steve DiLella, individual and family support programs director with Connecticut Department of Housing (DOH).

“We actually still have people on our waitlist from that 2007 opening, just showing you how difficult it is to move people through,” DiLella said. “I think we are trying to be intentional on how that waitlist moves. But knowing that it really is a small percentage of our overall total.”

DiLella spoke at a recent conference featuring housing professionals from Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

The panel, hosted by local housing nonprofit Partnership for Strong Communities, compared the ways in which each of the three states manage their housing voucher programs.

When it comes to helping low-income residents find affordable housing in Connecticut, partnerships are key, according to DiLella. The state housing department relies on collaborating with other social service agencies.

Working together, various agencies can utilize funding more effectively, he said. DiLella’s goal is to have a partnership with every state agency.

“They've really started to understand the importance of housing,” he said. “A lot of times when we work with some of these agencies before, they just thought, ‘Oh, housing, that's not our responsibility. It's you know, DOH’s.’ However, when they start to see the benefits they provide for the individuals that they serve, they really start buying into the model.”

Connecticut has a focus on collaborating with other state agencies and developing programs for specific populations, such as homelessness or families with young children. It relies less on the state’s general income-eligible voucher program.

In Connecticut, income-based vouchers often associated with Section 8 are more common for local housing authorities to distribute, DiLella said.

Demand is extreme in other states, too. Officials in Massachusetts and New Jersey said at the conference that their residents are also experiencing lengthy waits for housing assistance.

In Massachusetts, housing vouchers are administered by the Executive Office of Housing and Livable Communities.

The state’s Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) has more than 100,000 unique applicants, said Cecilia Woodworth, executive director of the office’s division of rental assistance.

“Unfortunately, the demand far, far exceeds what we have to offer. We do have a strict homeless priority, and that's one way to prioritize folks,” Woodworth said. “But we are actively looking at if that is accurately targeting the most vulnerable citizens. Unfortunately, a lot of those folks on the waitlist are in dire situations.”

Abigail is Connecticut Public's housing reporter, covering statewide housing developments and issues, with an emphasis on Fairfield County communities. She received her master's from Columbia University in 2020 and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2019. Abigail previously covered statewide transportation and the city of Norwalk for Hearst Connecticut Media. She loves all things Disney and cats.