Below-market housing in Stamford, a model and a ‘mess’


Housing was a hot topic during this year’s near-concluded legislative session at the state capitol.

Supporters have pushed for measures to increase the supply of affordable housing in Connecticut, one of the most expensive places to live in the country.

Towns pushed back, saying they will fight to preserve their character, especially as developers take advantage of a law that allows them to circumvent local zoning regulations if they build projects with a certain percentage of units affordable.

Each municipality is currently working on a plan – due to the state on June 30 – on how it will boost housing affordability.

In the hubbub, a municipality in Fairfield County was cited for its success.

Stamford’s Under Market Rate program is responsible for most of the affordable apartments built in the area over the past decade, lawmakers said.

In 2020, at least 1,035 units were built under the BMR program, said Lauren Meyer, spokeswoman for Mayor Caroline Simmons.

Under the program, new residential developments of 10 or more units must award 10% less than the market rate for the life of the building. BMR units are priced as a percentage of the region’s median income.

BMR units should be no different from units at market price and should be scattered throughout the building.

BMR tenants have access to all amenities. The cost of their rent, fees, and basic utilities cannot exceed 30% of their income, and they must be recertified annually to ensure they meet the thresholds.

But the scheme is not without its problems, and a Stamford housing study draft released late last year suggested it needed work.

Administration of the program is dispersed, according to the study, and staffing is inadequate. The information is not centralized, so it is difficult to follow the number of BMR units put online and the number of potential tenants on the waiting lists. Tenants do not know where to apply, according to the study.

Tenants don’t understand a lot, said Dorothy G., who lives in one of 24 BMR units at Infinity, a high-rise in Harbor Point.

Dorothy said she and her husband, a military veteran, must vacate their apartment by May 2. They have lived in a two-bedroom unit at Infinity since it opened 10 years ago, Dorothy said.

The family lost income when her husband’s working hours were reduced and went from two children to four, exceeding the apartment’s occupancy limits, Dorothy said.

“They told us we had to leave and we stopped paying the rent. They gave us papers and now we owe legal fees,” Dorothy said. “We were looking for a new place but everything is so expensive. I did not know what to do. So I just sat down.

It took a long time to get a BMR unit in the first place – it was on a waiting list for a year, Dorothy said. And she thought once you’re in the program, you’re in it.

“But I don’t know,” she said. “Before, there was a BMR office, and there was a woman who helped you. But the office has closed. Now I think Infinity is in charge of the BMR for this building.

It’s true. Infinity runs its BMR program, overseen by the city’s Land Use Bureau, Meyer said.

Emily Gordon, director of housing and community development, is in charge of oversight, according to Meyer. Among other duties, Gordon “supports and manages program compliance below market rate, the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and all housing-related planning,” Meyer said.

According to BMR regulations, the city may, at the discretion of the Zoning Board and with the approval of the Legal Department, manage BMR units or delegate management to another party.

Five buildings contract with Charter Oak Communities, the city’s housing authority, to run their BMR programs, but many other buildings run it themselves.

That’s a problem, said another Infinity BMR tenant. Infinity, owned and managed by property management and investment firm AJH of Lakewood, NJ, controls everything, the tenant said.

AJH made a mistake on her income and she had to find someone in town to correct it so she could continue to qualify for her housing, the tenant said. She had another problem with this year’s lease, she said.

“Months ago they asked for my papers – accounts, bank statements, payslips – to see if I was still eligible. But they didn’t send me a lease,” the woman said. “I’ve just seen her. They don’t tell you anything. You are still in limbo. I want peace. It’s my house. Give me my lease when I qualify.

Under regulations, AJH Management has the authority to determine whether a BMR tenant meets income requirements, Meyer said. The Land Use Bureau ensures that companies such as AJH comply with BMR regulations. Failure to comply can result in a zoning citation, but Gordon tries to address issues between businesses and tenants first, Meyer said.

A person at an AJH office in New Jersey said a manager would return a request for comment, but no one did.

Attorney Haldan Connor said he has a client scheduled to be kicked out of a BMR unit at Infinity on April 30. His client meets income requirements and pays rent, but hasn’t completed recertification paperwork, Connor said.

“Infinity went up to her and said, ‘You have to do this paperwork.’ She didn’t, and they think that gave them the right to evict her,” Connor said. “I can’t find anything in state law dealing with that. of competence.

However, there may be something in the BMR rules that answers a question from Dorothy. It says BMR tenants can request a different unit if they no longer meet the requirements of their assigned unit, “for example due to a change in family size or income.”

Dorothy said the complaints-based system only works if you contact someone, and they’re the right person.

“I contacted so many people, but they said they were too overwhelmed or I had to call someone else,” Dorothy said. “It’s a mess.”


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