This winter, CLS is rolling out a new, grant-funded initiative to expand affordable housing in Bridgeport. Meanwhile, we have success to report in litigation on behalf of tenants’ rights Bridgeport Towers, a HUD-subsidized complex for seniors and the disabled.
We were thrilled to learn this fall that we received a two-year grant worth nearly $750,000 to expand affordable housing opportunity for low-income people in Bridgeport. The one-time grant was awarded by the Connecticut Bar Foundation from settlement funds paid by the Bank of America, which was sued by a consortium of states after the housing crash in 2008.
CLS will use those funds to deploy an innovative, two-part strategy designed to give low-income people meaningful housing choices. About half of the funds will support a contract with Open Communities Alliance, a nonprofit that will seek to open pathways to housing mobility for Bridgeport residents who want to move to higher-opportunity cities and towns. At the same time, CLS will build a coalition of community allies that is committed to advancing a policy agenda aimed at expanding attractive, safe, affordable housing in Bridgeport itself. CLS’ work will be driven by Stephen Byers, a new Bridgeport-based housing attorney who comes to us after many years of legal aid lawyering in Indiana.
Our policy advocacy capacity will complement a continued willingness to litigate to protect our clients’ rights. On that front, we’re thrilled at the progress made in our litigation to protect tenants’ rights at Bridgeport Towers, a vibrant community housed in buildings that have been allowed to become dilapidated. Over months of working with the Bridgeport Towers tenant association, our lawyers heard the same complaint over and over: Residents need access to first floor bathrooms. Those bathrooms are kept locked — and the elevators to residents’ apartments are either slow or completely out-of-service. As a result, many residents have soiled themselves while waiting to get home to use the bathroom. As humiliating as this is, the problem is broader: Tenants did not feel that they had a voice to improve conditions in their own homes.
Our clients requested bathroom access – a reasonable accommodation, under federal law – multiple times, to no avail. CLS then sued Bridgeport Towers in federal court under the Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, arguing that management’s refusal to provide bathrooms – coupled with the poor elevator service – discriminates against residents on the basis of disability.
We’ve won our preliminary injunction, and we’re continuing to litigate for lasting relief for our clients. Congratulations to the Bridgeport team — Jane Kelleher, Yamini Menon, Evan Parzych, and housing unit manager Nilda Havrilla.