The State Bond Commission approved nearly $340 million in general obligation bonds Friday during its first meeting of 2021, which included more than $60 million in borrowing for housing-related projects.
After the meeting, Gov. Ned Lamont told reporters the commission unanimously approved more borrowing than it has in recent years due to the needs raised by the pandemic and the availability of lower interest rates resulting from Connecticut’s recent credit rating upgrade by Moody’s Investor Services.
“We did a lot less over the last couple years, I think you know the reason why, and I think the rating agencies recognized that. I think this is a pretty unique time,” the governor said. “It’s unique in terms of the extraordinary needs we have out there right now and unique in terms of the ability to borrow money at a real discount.”
When Lamont took office in 2019, he proposed putting the state on a “debt diet,” calling Connecticut’s prior borrowing habits “unsupportable.” Asked Friday if that diet had ended, the governor said he would wait to see how much federal support the state would receive this year before commenting on future borrowing.
Friday’s agenda included funding for several proposals aimed at improving the availability of affordable housing in Connecticut. The housing-related projects included $12 million in new borrowing for the Capital Region Development Authority to convert Hartford commercial structures at 196 Trumbull St. and 99 Pratt St. to rental housing.
The commission approved more than $34 million to fund grants and loans for the Flexible Housing Program, which finances the creation of affordable housing around the state. Friday’s funding included projects in Branford, Farmington, Hartford, New Haven, Newington, Orange, Salisbury and Waterbury.
The panel approved another $15 million to support the Housing Trust Fund, a similar program that will support loans for developments in Hartford, Stafford, Stamford, and Windham.
“There’s demand right now,” the governor said. “A lot of people are rediscovering our towns and cities. There’s a need for housing, a need for affordable housing and it also brings our towns and cities back to life and, given that we can borrow at extraordinarily low rates, this is a good time to be doing it.”
During a press conference Wednesday with U. S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge, Lamont said Connecticut also would be receiving $58 million in federal stimulus grants to support homelessness assistance in the state.
The governor said that funding would go towards supplementing efforts the state made to curb homelessness during the pandemic, which included retrofitting hotels to house people who had been staying in overcrowded shelters.
“We were in a pinch, obviously, nine months ago. We had to find decompressed housing immediately for all of our population — in this case, the homeless population. We had hotels, especially those that were business-oriented, that were sitting empty so we moved fast,” Lamont said. “Now the trick is to transition people to permanent housing and that’s our big emphasis now.”
Max Reiss, Lamont’s communications director, said the state Housing Department was working to close a deal to purchase a former Super 8 motel in Danbury with plans to convert it into a shelter and permanent housing center.
Reiss said the property would likely cost around $4.6 million. He said the state’s “aggressive” attention to homelessness has resulted in Connecticut’s homeless population dropping by nearly 30% from about 2,400 people in January 2020 to around 1,700 in January 2021.