Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie

HARTFORD, CT — Housing advocates stood on the steps of the state Capitol Monday and called for Gov. Ned Lamont to institute an eviction moratorium.

The current moratorium Lamont issued in April was supposed to end Tuesday, but he extended it to Aug. 22.

There are about 170,000 renters in Connecticut who are at risk of eviction because of their inability to pay rent. That’s the number from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.

Part of the reason the group gathered on the steps of the Capitol was calling for a moratorium on evictions is because until Monday there had been no rental assistance available to Connecticut renters.

The housing advocates held their press conference an hour before Lamont announced $10 million in rental assistance for renters impacted by COVID-19. Priority will be on supporting lower-income households who have been denied unemployment insurance.

Another $5 million will help renters who were in the process of eviction before the declaration of the COVID-19 public health emergency.

That amount of financial aid alone is not enough for housing advocates who are calling for more — plus a moratorium on evictions.

The group called for $140 million in easy-to-access rental assistance that meets the full needs of all of the state’s renters and their landlords regardless of immigration status. 

Constanza Segovia of the Hartford Deportation Defense said, “landlords have been chomping at the bit to evict our people from their homes in the middle of a pandemic.”

Selvil Alcerro lost his job due to a lack of available work during the pandemic. He said his landlord just increased the rent that he already can’t pay because he doesn’t have a job.

“I’m without work and there’s nothing I can do,” Alcerro said through a translator.

John Souza, president of the Connecticut Coalition of Property Owners, said nobody wants to put another person on the street.

“Everyone wants to cancel rent but you can’t ask one person to take on the problems of society,” Souza said.

He said landlords are trying to work with their tenants and if government wants to do something they should offer rental assistance and open up the housing courts for speedy proceedings.

A spokeswoman for the Judicial Branch said “We are discussing various options to resolve eviction cases after the Governor’s Executive Order expires, including holding remote hearings.”

Segovia pointed out that the presence of an eviction on a person’s record will impact their ability to obtain safe housing in the future. She said people who have problems finding safe housing also usually have chronic health conditions the rest of their lives because of the unsafe spaces they have to live in.

“The governor has to get real about the impact the eviction crisis is going to have on our communities,” Segovia said. 

Melissa Marichal, an attorney with New Haven Legal Assistance, said even before COVID-19, Connecticut’s rental housing was among the least affordable in the nation.

She said working at minimum wage, a person would have to work 81 hours per week to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment.

“Less than half of Connecticut renters have high confidence they can pay July rent,” Marichal said, citing U.S. Census Bureau data.

She said the amount Lamont has promised for rental assistance will only provide help for one in 10 of the households in need.

“The state’s failure to make adequate rental assistance available particularly ignores the scale of the need among undocumented families,” Marichal said.

She said by comparison, New Jersey has dedicated $100 million in rental assistance to its residents, Pennsylvania has designated $175 million, Illinois has earmarked $150 million, and even Vermont has committed $42 million to its renters in need.

“Housing now more than ever is a public health necessity,” Marichal said.