State officials are applauding a Stamford program for providing most of the affordable housing built in Fairfield County over the past decade.
The below market rate program has created more than 1,000 units by requiring developers of projects with at least 10 apartments to designate 10% of them as affordable.
That means a landlord who can recoup $2,700 a month for a one-bedroom unit in the 2022 market can only charge about $1,700 for that unit at a below-market rate.
It’s a nice program for residents who earn far less than the area’s median income, said Janine McCaskill, a Stamford mother of two and a health insurance company customer service representative.
But navigating there is ugly.
“Instead of going higher on the waiting lists, I’m falling lower,” said McCaskill, who for the past year has had his name on multiple lists for a BMR unit. “It’s so confusing. I’m at my wit’s end.
Forty-two buildings in Stamford offer BMR apartment rentals, according to the program’s website. McCaskill, so far, has filed claims with five or six buildings.
“I’ve lost count,” she said.
Using the application portal provided by Charter Oak Communities, Stamford’s housing authority, McCaskill tracks its status in each building.
Last year, she was 41st in line at Escape, a 17-unit BMR building in the Harbor Point development in the South End.
“But now I’m 46 on that list,” McCaskill said.
Last year, she was 40th on the waiting list at Allure, a Harbor Point building with 44 BMR units.
“Today it says my number is 62,” McCaskill said.
She becomes more perplexed when she thinks of a call she received a few months ago.
“It was someone from Charter Oak who told me they had put my name on the list for one of the buildings. I was so excited. But the next day they called and said, ‘Oh, sorry, we made a mistake, you weren’t selected,'” McCaskill said. “I asked him, ‘How can this happen?’ She told me that people who live or work in the South End, where this building is located, have preference. They bump into people who don’t live or work there.
That’s true for some buildings, said Natalie Coard, executive director of Charter Oak Communities. It depends on the building’s affordability plan, Coard said.
“Each building negotiated its own plan with the city,” Coard said. “We manage the BMR program for buildings that have contracted with us to do so, in accordance with their individual affordability plan. »
Developer Building and Land Technology, which is building most of the apartments in Harbor Point, has created affordability plans that give preference to BMR applicants who live or work in the South End. Coard said it was a reaction to criticism from displaced South End residents when BLT bought properties in the once-industrial district to build its luxury skyscrapers.
“People felt like BLT was taking people away from the South End, so it was about giving people the option to continue living in the South End,” Coard said. “It was supposed to be a good thing for those who live there, but it can make it difficult for other people trying to access the BMR program.”
The program offers a helping hand to people who do not earn the area’s median income as determined by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. For 2022, HUD has pegged that income for the Stamford area at $180,900 for a family of four.
Most BMR units are one- or two-bedroom apartments with affordable rents for householders earning half that amount.
In 2022, the rent for a one-bedroom BMR unit cannot exceed $1,696 per month; and $2,035 for a two bedroom. Market rate rents start at $1,000 more per month and can go much higher.
BMR is not a subsidized program. It requires building owners to simply accept lower rents for designated units, Coard said.
The program exists in an increasingly unaffordable landscape — HUD’s area median income for 2022 is nearly 20% higher than last year, said Vincent Tufo, chief executive of Charter Oak Communities.
“A landlord can now, when renewing a lease, increase the rent by a factor of 20%, because the area’s median income has now been used as the basis for calculating this,” Tufo said. “For a lot of residents with limited incomes, that means they’re going to have to move.”
City officials are asking landlords not to raise rents by more than 8%, and candidates like McCaskill are filing multiple BMR demands.
“At Glenbrook Crossing, I was one of the first to apply. It was day one,” McCaskill said. “I was called number 7. Today I am number 6. There are not many units like other buildings – that’s why my number is low. But will I get pushed around by people who live or work in Glenbrook?
Coard said the affordability plan for Glenbrook Crossing does not include a preference for neighborhood residents. That’s good news for McCaskill, but his confusion over the criteria illustrates the problem.
Charter Oak has contracts with only six of the 42 buildings that offer BMR units. Thus, Charter Oak can provide applicant information only on Allure, NV, Escape, Harbor Landing, Glenbrook Crossing and Anthem.
“We have an online waiting list management system so people don’t have to call us to see where they are on the waiting list. But, for other buildings, people have to call each one individually to find out where they are,” Coard said. “There is a need for a more centralized option for people. It would be beneficial to have a one-stop shop.
It would come at a cost, Coard said.
“Every building owner should take a slice of their pie and use it to pay for centralized service,” she said.
The city’s housing affordability plan, released two months ago, determined that the administration of the BMR program is dispersed and understaffed. Candidates do not know where to apply; it is unclear how many BMR units are available; and it’s hard to see how many applicants are on the waiting lists, the document says.
Lauren Meyer, special assistant to Mayor Caroline Simmons, said the city is “working to create a single, unified waiting list and application system so people don’t have to apply directly. to different owners.
Affordability plans can be changed, but only by city, housing and building officials working together, Meyer said.
Tufo said the Stamford BMR program was ahead of its time, but must now adapt over time, which will require “political decisions and resources”.
“The question now is what population is the program targeting, and is it serving the segment of the community that needs housing assistance? said Tufo. “You could say he serves a significant segment of the community – those who earn less than six figures. But it might not serve the people it was originally meant to serve.
McCaskill and her children now live in a housing estate in Waterside, a neighborhood adjacent to the South End.
“There have been three shootings since I have been here. One night in 2020 a bullet came close to my bedroom window,” McCaskill said. “I’m looking for a better place to live. I meet the income criteria for the BMR program, but I am never selected. It is difficult for people who need affordable housing.