Sen. Kissel, Enfield officials object to plan to help released inmates get into public housing [Journal Inquirer]

December 6, 2012

Journal Inquirer

Published: Thursday, December 6, 2012

Officials in Enfield are opposing state efforts to make it easier for ex-convicts to get public housing.

Scott Bertrand, executive director of the Enfield Housing Authority, told a legislative panel last week that his town’s officials oppose a portion of the proposal to offer “certificates of rehabilitation” so those with criminal histories can get jobs and housing.

Enfield is home to three state prisons. And there are three more in the neighboring towns of Suffield and Somers.

Under the proposal, an offender could get the certificate from a Superior Court judge. Public housing authorities would have to consider the certificate as evidence that the offender had rehabilitated. But housing authorities would still have discretion to reject an applicant, and the certificate wouldn’t make someone eligible for public housing who didn’t qualify under federal law.
Bertrand said the proposal unfairly targets public housing — it wouldn’t apply to other low-rent or subsidized housing — and warned it could open housing authorities to lawsuits if they admit a convict who hurts someone.

He testified before the Connecticut Sentencing Commission, a panel of judges, lawyers, and state officials that makes recommendations to the legislature.

Bertrand said housing authorities already have a process for considering whether convicted criminals can get housing, and there’s an appeals process if they’re denied. He said more should be done to help convicts get into other forms of low-rent housing.

“If you’re going to look to facilitate housing, you have to look at the broader picture,” Bertrand said.

With Bertrand at the hearing was Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield.

He said there’s concern that the certificates could give convicts priority over seniors for public housing. The Enfield Housing Authority has a waiting list to get in.

“This proposal talks about specific public housing in specific communities where there are waiting lines already, where there’s a tremendous amount of seniors,” Kissel said.

And Kissel warned about political opposition to the bill, which he said would get more support from the legislature if it didn’t affect public housing authorities.

Others at the hearing spoke in favor of the certificates of rehabilitation proposal.

Charles Coviello, a real-estate agent in Bridgeport who helps former inmates find housing, said convicts struggle to find jobs, and because they don’t have jobs, they can’t pay rent. He suggested even more assistance, such as short-term loans to pay security deposits to landlords.