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Wednesday, October 18, 2023 8:51 AM

Questions Remain - By Kate Ramunni Record-Journal staff

Questions remain

Wallingford Town Council approves creating a Fair Rent Commission, but not all members are happy
By Kate Ramunni Record-Journal staff

WALLINGFORD — On its second try, the Town Council approved an ordinance creating a Fair Rent Commission as required by state statute, but not all of the council members were happy with it.
The state passed the requirement last year that towns with a population of more than 25,000 have in place a Fair Rent Commission by July 1, 2023. Many of those affected by the legislation already had commissions, but 27, including Wallingford, didn’t.

When the proposed ordinance first came before the council in June, it failed to pass with the required five votes, with three members absent from the meeting. This time, it passed with two council members — Craig Fishbein and Christina Tatta — voting against it.
Renters can go to a Fair Rent Commission with complaints about excessive rent and unacceptable living conditions. Under Wallingford’s ordinance, municipally or governmentally subsidized units — under federal, state or local authorities — are exempt from falling under the purview of the commission.

Exemption questioned

During the public hearing, Jesse Reynolds, a Democrat running for a council seat, questioned that caveat. “Why don’t people who live in those buildings need to have access to this commission? ” he asked. While he understands that the rent in subsidized units is determined by a formula and is below fair market rent, those tenants should be able to go to the commission with complaints about living conditions, Reynolds said. “Let’s say hypothetically I live in the housing authority and I’m in a wheelchair — and this is based on a real story — and in certain units of the housing authority, you’re not allowed to have a ramp on your back door. So you’re more or less instructed to try to get out of a window if there’s a fire and you can’t access your front door,” he said. “If a tenant had a problem as such, they could come to a Fair Rent Commission and say they pay X amount of dollars based on a formula, but they could also say the conditions of my home don’t meet the standards that they are supposed to be living in. It’s not just the money that you pay, it’s the conditions you’re living in.
“I understand why you wouldn’t want to say that the rent is unfair, but someone could feasibly come to you and say, ‘I don’t want to pay any rent at all because of the conditions that I live in,’ and that’s also what this covers. That’s my main concern.”

Fishbein said he agreed with that reasoning. After the ordinance first came before the council and was defeated, Fishbein said he reviewed it and made changes he felt were needed. But when it came back before the council, those changes weren’t included, he said. “One of my proposed changes was to deal with the rules ‘for thee but not for me.’ I think that’s something this country was founded on getting away from,” Fishbein said. “Certainly if we took the time to work on the language, we could say ‘except for rent regarding the housing authority.’ We could write that in here.”

One change he recommended was instead of requiring the commission to include one landlord and one tenant, it should be “at least” one of each, Fishbein said.

Fishbein: ‘All my changes were rejected’

“That way it isn’t confined,” he said. “That’s the reason we have the Ordinance Committee, to work through those things, but unfortunately all my changes were rejected, so I intend to vote no on what is before us.

“What I’ve heard is we can deal with the problems and redo it in the future. The problem is that when you attack the private sector, what does it say to landlords out there?” he said. “The landlords provide a needed service. I think the Housing Authority here in Wallingford is the largest renter of residential properties than any single entity. When you say to a private entity, you have to come under the confines of this, but we don’t, do you think people are going to be apt to become landlords? That diminishes housing.”

He understands that the town has to meet the state mandate, said Fishbein, himself a state representative, but he admitted that there are problems with the underlying statute the legislature passed. “But we should be working together on language that is best for our community, that says to potential landlords that you’re welcome in our community,” he said.

Tatta also objected to the ordinance, but her opposition was not only because it exempts subsidized housing, but concerning state overreach. “I’m against this philosophically. I just feel that anytime the government inserts itself into the free market, it never ends well, and we are being told and mandated by the state to approve an ordinance that does that,” Tatt a said. “We don’t know what the consequences are if we don’t do that. We know or infer that the state will try to hold back money from us in some way, but we really don’t know what will happen.”

While she recognizes that the commission is being forced on the town, she can’t support it, Tatta said. “Just because the state does something that I think is wrong for our community, I don’t necessarily want my name to be in support of something that I think is not good for our community,” she said. “The fact that the government requires this for private rental business but doesn’t hold itself to that same standard, I think, is almost appalling. So the government when it acts as a landlord doesn’t hold itself to the same standards that it’s requiring of our other landlords in town.”

Carmody promotes commission

The creation of a Fair Rent Commission won’t preclude landlords from charging market rates, Councilor Sam Carmody said.

“I just want to remind everyone what a Fair Rent Commission is. It’s a municipal board with the primary power to prevent rental charges in residential housing that according to state statute are ‘harsh and unconscionable,’” he said. “This isn’t a government handout and it also won’t be tying the hands of landlords from charging market rate rents. What this does is it creates a fair process to keep individual renters from being charged excessively.”

The concept of such a commission is not new, Carmody said.

“Twenty-five Connecticut towns already have fair rent ordinances, most going back at least 30 years,” he said. “The whole purpose is to protect those from being taken advantage of. This council decided it was OK to delay for months putting in protections for the most vulnerable in our community. I think that was improper and unacceptable.I supported this the first time it came around and I support it again tonight.”

Saturday, September 23, 2023 7:17 AM

Citizen Mike Appearance: 9/2023

DATE:  9/8/23
TO:  All those interested in current events in Wallingford
FROM:  Mike Brodinsky, Producer of the Citizen Mike Show
RE:  Latest episode with Jesse Reynolds, Town Council candidate
I have released the latest episode of the Citizen Mike Show.  You
can get to it on Youtube by clicking on this link:
My guest is Jesse Reynolds, Democratic candidate for 
Town Council.
Since 2010, the Citizen Mike Show has provided information
and commentary on how and why local government
works.  With contributions from guests, primary source
documentation, and video clips from public meetings, the
Citizen Mike Show drills down beneath the superficial to get
to the bottom of what's happening in Wallingford's government.
Here is what we cover in this episode:
1.  One high school?  Or two?  Jesse Reynolds stressed
the need for all courses to be available to all students.
That led him to conclude that, although the Lyman Hall site
has issues, one high school is better academically.  He also
noted one school would probably cost less, too. So he favors
that option. (These three sentences, however, are an 
abbreviation of his full comments, To get the complete story,
therefore, you need to watch.)
2.  The old train station:  The question of how much tax money
we should put into renovating the old train station may come
up after the election.  I detect two schools of thought:  
The old train station holds the key to the lower downtown's 
re-birth so we should be liberal with our commitment and spending.  
The other school of thought holds that depending upon costs,
we should only do enough to preserve the building and address 
safety issues.  But we should not expect a renovated train station
to work miracles. Jesse leans towards the latter point of view.
3.  Choate:  Jesse would like to open a respectful dialogue
with Choate in an effort to convince it to assist the town more
with respect to the use of its facilities --- athletic fields, perhaps,
and its ice rink. He's not looking for a check.
Thanks for watching the Citizen Mike Show.  Your
constructive feedback is always welcome.
To discontinue these notices, email me at 
Mike Brodinsky


Thursday, June 29, 2023 3:21 PM

Press Release: June 2, 2023

Jesse Reynolds to seek endorsement from Wallingford DTC for Town Council

Wallingford, CT— June 2, 2023 — I am proud to announce that I will seek the nomination from
the Wallingford Democratic Town Committee to run for Town Council in the 2023 Municipal

I bring a unique set of qualifications to the decision-making process in Wallingford. My
professional background includes working in public health research and program evaluation,
and overseeing regulatory requirements for federally funded research. My educational
background is in the social sciences, specifically applied statistics and research methodology. My
skill set will lead to more straightforward and beneficial outcomes for the entire town, especially
our business community and non-profit sector.

As we transition into this new post-pandemic era, there are many questions about the future that
need to be addressed. While we have made great strides with improvements to public parking
and the building of our new police station, there are still many gaps not being addressed. I will
push for more emphasis on improving the conditions for our youth in town, including
educational and recreational opportunities.

Ensuring the safety of our citizens and protecting town property should always be a top priority, and this requires more proactive solutions. We are ushering in an exciting era in Wallingford with this year’s Municipal Election. I will bring an effective and necessary voice to the Town Council, expediting the process of addressing our town’s needs in a practical and bipartisan manner.

Paid for by:
Jesse Reynolds for Town Council,
Kristi Doerr, Treasurer

Approved by:
Jesse Reynolds
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