From a farm in Ecuador, Seila Mosquera-Bruno came the United States with a two-and-a-half 2 1/2-year-old daughter and little English. She was 23.
In the three decades since, Mosquera-Bruno worked in a factory, added an associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degree to her name and ascended to chief executive officer of an affordable housing nonprofit.
Now, Mosquera-Bruno is likely to be confirmed as Connecticut’s top housing official. Her nomination by Gov. Ned Lamont to commissioner of the Department of Housing was unanimously approved by a legislative committee and will soon go the House for a vote.
“She has a good reputation with New Haven and I think she has the right qualifications and experience,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, D-New Haven.
Her background as an affordable-housing developer brings a new approach to the state department tasked with providing an antidote to Connecticut’s sky-high housing costs.
“I think that being a practitioner brings some experience that will help the development of affordable housing,” said Mosquera-Bruno, a Milford resident.
She will join a Lamont cabinet noted for its historic diversity with half of its members women and many who are people of color.
Mosquera-Bruno, 54, doesn’t like to talk about herself. Her grandmother, who raised her in Guayaquil, Ecuador in her mother’s absence, taught her not to.
“We come from a very humble family,” said Mosquera-Bruno.
With her father ailing, Mosquera-Bruno’s mother came to New Haven to make money, which she sent back to Ecuador to support her husband and children for more than a decade. When Mosquera-Bruno arrived with her own daughter, she worked for a few years at airplane component manufacturer Harcosemco in Branford.
Then she took English as a Second Language courses and worked part-time as an education assistant at South Central Community College in New Haven, while getting her associate’s degree to be an administrative assistant.
Yale University gave her a job as an administrative assistant, so she took classes at night to get her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Charter Oak State College in New Britain. She followed that with a master’s in Urban Studies from Southern Connecticut State University and a community development fellowship at Harvard University.
Mosquera-Bruno fell into housing work.
“I had a part-time job at college (Southern Connecticut) and I really wanted to get a job as an administrator,” she said.
But Moquera-Bruno got a job as an organizer at NeighborWorks New Horizons, when the nonprofit developer had only two staff members and went by another name. As the organization grew to 32 staffers, she climbed the ladder to developer, deputy director and 15 years ago, CEO.
David Rich, who was Mosquera-Bruno’s boss at Neighborworks for three years, recalled a battle in the early 2000s to get the New Haven city council to approve a large permanent supportive housing development in Fair Haven.
“It was hard fought and acrimonious but Seila, still in her thirties was gusty, determined, passionate and ultimately persuasive in convincing the city council to approve our development,” he said.
Mosquera-Bruno also served on several local and national housing and home finance boards. After Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, Mosquera-Bruno went to the island with construction specialists from her organization to help the nonprofit Puerto Rico Neighborhood Housing Services.
“For five more-than-10-hour work days, they helped us and brought a donation to our Hurricane Relief Initiative ‘Rise and Shine’ in the community of Altos del Cabro,” said Blanca Vélez, executive director of Puerto Rico NHS. “While her team was building walls, fixing doors, sinks and windows in the community, Seila was helping me and my employees with her knowledge and expertise.”
Developing a department
Since it was created by former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in 2013, the Department of Housing was led by former Darien first selectman Evonne Klein. With her background as a developer, Mosquera-Bruno believes she can improve the department’s programs and grants to help companies and nonprofits build more housing. She used to apply for these grants after all, she pointed out.
While the pool of available dollars may shrink, the demand for affordable housing continues to grow. Last year, there were 140,531 Connecticut households deemed “extremely low income” but only 51,050 affordable rental units available in the state.
Mosquera-Bruno said she is committed to increasing public private partnerships to increase affordable housing. That was a recommendation of a group of 20 housing advocates, developers and housing authority leaders who made policy recommendations to Lamont.
Private investment will be important because Lamont’s proposed state budget suggests a “debt diet” to cut state bonding that is often used in housing construction fundraising. The proposal worries nonprofit leaders, who have building projects on the horizon.
“I’m still evaluating what I have, what out priorities on projects are and the resources we have available,” Mosquera-Bruno said. “I need a little more time to respond to all that.”
Mosquera-Bruno said her goal is to make the Department of Housing’s programs and grant policies easier and more effective for developers and municipalities.
"All Connecticut residents should have a safe, secure, affordable home that provides them with the opportunity for education, an adequate income and the fulfillment of their families’ dreams," she said.
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