Hugh McQuaid Photo

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy easily won over a crowd of housing advocates during a candidate forum Wednesday with an interest in the subject and a record of investments in the state’s affordable housing infrastructure.

Malloy and Republican Tom Foley separately addressed an audience at the Lyceum in Hartford during a forum sponsored by the Partnership for Strong Communities.

Malloy appeared in his element for the talk on homelessness and housing. He leaned comfortably against a stage in the Lyceum and gave a short talk before taking questions from the audience.

The state has completed 2,700 new housing units since 2011, it has another 3,100 units under construction, and has promised to fund another 7,100 units, he told the group..

“To put it perspective, with respect to state dollars, we have appropriated more money in three-and-a-half years than had been appropriated in the prior 24 years,” he said. It was one of several times the group of advocates applauded the governor’s remarks.

Many of the audience members who later asked questions of Malloy, first thanked him for his administration’s focus on housing and homelessness.

“I want to thank you for this incredible investment in affordable housing and ending homelessness. I think it’s really remarkable. I’ve done this work for 35 years and I’ve not seen anything like it,” Betsy Crum, executive director of the Connecticut Housing Coalition, said.

Hugh McQuaid Photo

The group was cooler to Foley, who said he supported the group but largely avoided talking about specific housing policies in favor of criticizing Malloy’s approach to the economy.

“If we get the economy going, and you get people’s incomes up and you get real estate values moving again, a lot of the problems take care of themselves,” he said.

At times during the question and answer portion of the event, Foley acknowledged that the subject was outside his “area of expertise” but expressed a desire to work with the group on the issue.

“I’m a problem solver and this is a problem. It’s something we have to do something about. So, I’m all ears,” he said.

On a question about investments in supportive housing for people with mental illnesses, Foley confessed to being unfamiliar with the concept. Susan Kelley of the National Alliance on Mental Illness explained that she was referring to housing programs with treatment options built into them. Foley said he supported more community-based care options for people with mental health issues.

But Kelley did not forget his initial question. Later, as she posed a similar question to Malloy, she said “I want to say, I appreciate that I don’t have to explain to you what supportive housing is.” The rest of the crowd chuckled at Foley’s expense.

Hugh McQuaid Photo

After the forum, Foley told reporters he is an ally to housing advocates even if he was not familiar with everything they brought up during the event.

“This is not something that I’m an expert on. Some of the questions they asked me, I don’t know the answer to. I certainly agree with their objectives and when you agree on objectives, the easy part is putting forth a plan and a road map to getting there,” he said.

However, some in the audience were not impressed with Foley’s planning. Noemi Soto, a New Britain resident who attended the event, said she was surprised he did not seem more prepared.

“If I’m in his position and I’m coming here to speak to this group and I have people who work under me, I think I’d do some research,” she said.

Hugh McQuaid Photo

Malloy told reporters he has delved into the issue of housing and homelessness as governor and during his tenure as mayor of Stamford.

“If you want to run… one of the three most urban states in the nation, maybe you should understand housing policy just a little bit,” he said.