Milford Advocacy Group Wants Fair Rent Commission Appointments, City Says It Lacks Candidates

January 13, 2024 - Nick Sambides - Hearst Media - All In for Milford, a pro-affordable-housing alliance made of of about two dozen religious and community groups, is pressing city leaders to appoint members to a state-mandated Fair Rent Commission. But qualified candidates haven't come forward, according to Phil Vetro, the chairman of the Board of Aldermen.

In a letter to aldermen and Mayor Anthony Giannattasio, the 650-member All In group reminded aldermen of their 14-0 vote on June 27 to form a commission and said the lack of a board now, months after the vote, deprives the city of a necessary service.

"Countless lifelong Milford residents of all ages have been priced out of their hometown because of rising housing costs, in the process leaving behind not only a great city but a vital social network," the letter states. "Milford is required to have a Fair Rent Commission by Connecticut law and now by the city charter. As long as members have not been nominated, and the commission is not operational, the city is denying its residents a vital service to which they are legally entitled."

But since the city's June 27 vote to create a commission, which much consist of an equal mix of landlords, renters and neutral parties, no landlords or tenants have sent in resumes, Vetro said.

"There have only been a few resumes for the citizen's (or neutral) positions," Vetro said Thursday. "I really do think that people have put this aside or forgotten about it."

Once potential commission members are identified, they will be appointed by the mayor and go before the board for approval, Chief of Staff Justin Rosen said in an email Thursday.

State legislators set a July 1 deadline for towns with 25,000 or more residents to form boards, partly in response to average rent costs that increased between 6 percent and 8 percent through early 2022.

Jennifer Paradis, executive director of the Beth-El homeless shelter, one of the All-In members, said Milford had 72 evictions just before the Christmas holidays, according to a tracking app.

"Some of those cases should have had the ability to go before a fair rent commission and potentially rectify the situation and save heartache and money on the landlords' and on the tenants' part," Paradis said Thursday. "So this is a community resource."

Shortly after the aldermen's vote creating a commission, then-Mayor Richard Smith had said he had received several resumes but hadn't made any appointments. His term ended in November, and he said he left making appointments to his successor.

"We had some interest, but I never actually saw the resumes," he said.

However, it was clear that city leaders had issues with the mandate. Rosen expressed doubt at the time that the process would be quick and said he thought finding qualified candidates would be difficult. Vetro, meanwhile, has described the board as yet another example of an unfunded mandate from the state, with the state requiring the board but not offering to pay municipalities the legal or administrative expenses such a board is likely to incur.

Statewide, municipalities have generally complied with the mandate creating fair rent boards. As of late December, 43 municipalities had created boards, with Ridgefield and Greenwich as holdouts. Ridgefield officials described the mandate as government overreach.

In the meantime, residents who need help can call the State of Connecticut 211 hotline, which can connect them with a variety of support services, including rental assistance, Rosen said.

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