Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

April 3, 2007

Honorable Michael A. Christ
Deputy Majority Leader
House of Representatives
State Capitol
Hartford CT 06106-1591

Dear Representative Christ:

You have asked for our opinion whether federal and state law permits a municipality to operate a Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) Section 8 housing program outside of its geographical area.  Specifically, you indicate that the City of Hartford (“City”) operates its Section 8 public housing program in surrounding communities, including the Town of East Hartford.  The City began doing so in 1990. 

The Section 8 program is a federal housing subsidy program designed to assist low income families in obtaining decent, safe and sanitary dwellings and to promote economically mixed housing.  42 U.S.C. § 1437f(a); 24 C.F.R. § 882.101.  A Public Housing Agency (“PHA”) enters into an Annual Contributions Contract (“ACC”) with HUD.  A PHA is defined as “any State, county, municipal or other governmental entity or public body … which is authorized to engage in or assist in the development or operation of low income housing.”  42 U.S.C. § 1437a(b)(6).  “Low-income housing” means “decent, safe and sanitary dwellings assisted under this Act.”  42. U.S.C. § 1437a(b)(1).  Families who meet the program requirements would be issued a certificate or voucher by the PHA which they could present to a landlord.  If the PHA determines that the dwelling unit meets program standards and the rent is approvable, the PHA would approve a lease between the family and the landlord.  The family would pay no more than thirty percent of its income toward rent.  The PHA pays the difference with the money received under its ACC with HUD.  42 U.S.C. §§ 1437(a)(1) and 1437f(c)(3)(A).

Among the powers granted to municipalities by State law are the powers to contract and to provide for the financing, construction, rehabilitation, repair, improvement or subsidization of housing for low and moderate income persons and families.  Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-148(c) (1)(A) and (4)(I).  Therefore, the City of Hartford qualifies under federal law as a PHA and may enter into an ACC with HUD and contract with landlords to pay rent in excess of thirty percent of a qualifying family’s income. 

In 1990, the City made a request to HUD to amend its Section 8 Administrative Plan to implement a mobility policy allowing the City to contract with landlords outside the boundaries of the City.  Pursuant to Paragraph 7-2a(1) of the HUD Handbook, the City was required to submit a legal opinion regarding its ability to enter into contracts on an extra-territorial basis. The Hartford Corporation Counsel’s Office opined that the City could contract with landlords beyond the City limits and on June 29, 1990, HUD approved the City’s amended Administrative Plan.  The effect of Hartford's HUD approved mobility program was to allow Hartford to contract directly with landlords in other communities and continue to administer the housing certificates or vouchers of families leaving Hartford, instead of transferring administration of those families' housing needs to the PHAs in their new communities.

In the opinion serving as the basis for HUD's approval of Hartford's mobility program, the Hartford Corporation Counsel stated that the City could contract with landlords outside the City because nothing in State law or the Charter of the City of Hartford prohibited the City from exercising its power to contract or lease property outside City boundaries.  Conn. Gen. Stat. § 7-148(c)(1)A, § 7-148(c)(3)(A).  You have asked this office whether we agree with the Hartford Corporation Counsel's opinion and whether Hartford can continue to operate its section 8 program in the manner approved by HUD.

"It is settled law that as a creation of the state, a municipality has no inherent powers of its own. . . . A municipality has only those powers that have been expressly granted to it by the state or that are necessary for it to discharge its duties and to carry out its objects and purposes. . . .”  (Citations omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.)  Avalon Bay Communications, Inc. v. Sewer Commission of City of Milford, 270 Conn. 409, 425, 853 A.2d 497 (2004).  A municipality has no lawful authority to act beyond its granted powers and their necessary implications.  See, Nizzardo v. State Traffic Commission, 259 Conn. 131, 155, 788 A.2d 1158 (2002).

Some municipal powers are specifically limited to a town's geographical boundaries.  For example, in regard to a town's power to tax real property, Conn. Gen. Stat. 12-64 (a) states: "All of the following-mentioned property, not exempted, shall be set in the list of the town where it is situated..."  Similarly, each town's grand list "shall contain the assessed values of all property in the town…"  Conn. Gen. Stat. 12-55(a).  Municipal zoning commissions are "authorized to regulate, within the limits of such municipality, the height, number of stories and size of buildings and other structures…"  Towns also have the power to "Provide for police protection, regulate and prescribe the duties of persons providing police protection with respect to criminal matters within the limits of the municipality and maintain and regulate a suitable place of detention within the limits of the municipality…"  Conn. Gen. Stat. 7-148(c)(4).

   Other municipal powers do not contain specific geographical limitations.  The towns' power to "Contract and be contracted with, sue and be sued, and institute, prosecute, maintain and defend any action or proceeding in any court of competent jurisdiction" has no geographical limitation.  Conn. Gen. Stat. 7-148(c)(1)(A).  Nor is the power of towns to "Take or acquire by gift, purchase, grant, including any grant from the United States or the state, bequest or devise and hold, condemn lease, sell, manage, transfer, release and convey such real and personal property or interest therein absolutely or in trust as the purposes of the municipality or any public use or purpose… require" specifically limited to the towns' boundaries.  Conn. Gen. Stat. §  7-148 (c)(3)(A).

    Whether a particular power granted to municipalities by the General Assembly extends beyond municipal  boundaries must be determined by an analysis of the particular statutory grant of authority and the circumstances of each case.  This office, however, does not issue opinions interpreting statutes relating to the powers and jurisdiction of municipal governments because this office does not have the statutory authority to do so.  See, Op. Atty. Gen., (August 31, 2000), Marc S. Ryan, (declining to provide an interpretation of Conn. Gen. Stat. 12-63c(a) concerning the procedure local tax assessors are to employ in the valuation of commercial and industrial property because it is a "local issue that is the subject of ongoing litigation"); 1988 Op. Atty. Gen. 41 (December 15, 1988), Hon. Lester J. Forst, (declining to provide opinion whether an independent engineering consultant would be considered an agent of the municipality that hires him and whether he would enjoy the protections from liability of a municipal employee); 1985 Op. Atty. Gen. 8 (January 28, 1985), Joseph E. Canale, January 28, 1985 (declining to comment on local ordinances and statutes affecting local governments).  This office only opines on issues related to municipal powers when municipal action directly affects the statutory authority granted to a state agency to administer a particular state program.  See, Op. Atty. Gen., (February 22, 2006), Robert L. Genuario.

   The present issue does not concern a state administered program or affect the jurisdiction of a state agency.  Instead, it is purely a question of municipal authority as it relates to a federally administered program.  This office, therefore, must decline to issue an opinion on this matter. 

Very truly yours,


Paul Pernerewski
Assistant Attorney General

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