For years, Marina Ilarraza’s family lived in a government-subsidized apartment in Hartford’s North End where mold adorned the shower, the windows wouldn’t shut, the heat worked sporadically and the water ran brown.
In the basement, a sewage backup left behind fleas and rotting cats. Drug violence in the neighborhood often prevented her children from playing outside.
She wanted out but had few options – until 2019, when the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ended the last of its contracts with the landlords of the Ilarrazas’ apartment and two others in the city because of the deplorable conditions inside.
Ilarraza had hoped that the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher that HUD gave her would help her find a better place, but she and others who had lived in the three apartments soon found that they had very few options. Some – including Ilarraza – wound up stuck in Hartford, in apartments that some said were even worse.
The system, for them, is a trap. Now, the policies that keep poor residents in impoverished areas with little opportunity are the subject of a class action lawsuit that 10 local families filed on Wednesday against HUD and various housing authorities. The lawsuit has the potential to broadly affect how affordable housing is offered across the country.
Peter Haberlandt, senior counsel with Open Communities Alliance, said the barriers that the 250 families in the Hartford North End faced when trying to relocate are systematic, and the goal of the lawsuit is to force HUD and the housing authorities they work with to change their tactics that are further segregating communities.
“We do have a sense that this is coming again … There are other places like this,” he said during a press conference Wednesday in front of a gate that surrounds the now-closed, run-down property where Ilarraza’s family used to live. “Really, the goal of this is, let’s work on it now, let’s come up with a way — and there are ways that have been done successfully in the past — to not have this happen again.”
HUD ‘perpetuating segregation,’ Hartford families claim in lawsuit, Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, CT Mirror, Nov. 18, 2020, available here