In a joint public hearing followed by Appropriations, Commerce and Housing committee meetings, Connecticut legislators voted unanimously to approve the Small Cities Community Development Block Grant Allocation Plan on Wednesday, paving the way for cities and towns across the state with populations of less than 50,000 to access funding for local projects.
Funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the program provides grants to benefit low and middle income residents, decrease blight, or address a specific, urgent crisis. Small communities across the state receive more than $13 million annually through the grants.
Miguel Rivera, Housing & Community Development Manager with the Connecticut Department of Housing, said that in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, housing assistance through Small Cities Community Development Block Grants has been lifesaving.
“We’re in unprecedented times, and I think being able to mobilize Community Development Block Grants in a way that has not necessarily always been utilized in the history of the program here in Connecticut allowed us to accomplish that, and help people on the ground save lives,” Rivera said.
Helen McAlinden of Opening Doors Fairfield County testified in a public hearing before the vote that this program has been vital to helping the homeless in the town of Westport. McAlinden said the town has used the funds for diversion programs that help people experiencing homelessness find the resources to access alternative housing immediately rather than sending them to shelters.
Before receiving the grant in 2017, McAlinden said that in Fairfield County, only 149 individuals and 98 families who reached out for assistance were diverted from shelters that year. However, in 2020, that number rose to 759 individuals and 597 families, she said, also noting that diversion rates increased from 10 percent to upwards of 70 percent.
“The data is very telling,” McAlinden said. “This works.”
Catherine Zall, executive director of the New London Homeless Hospitality Center, said the grant has dramatically improved their ability to help people access housing resources quickly.
“With this funding, we were able to put in place an infrastructure that was, first of all, able to shorten the wait from the time people called 211 so they have an appointment from over two weeks to now a day,” Zall said.
State Rep. Kara Rochelle, D-Ansonia, shared why she voted in favor of the allocation plan, and why her community applied for a grant.
“I represent Ansonia, which does have an application in this year,” Rochelle said. “We have an application in for a senior housing unit which has 40 units in it, and we desperately need a new elevator and a new roof, there is water leaking and ceiling damage.”