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    Saturday, December 03, 2022

    Together, we can find solutions to affordable housing problem

    Although there is a diversity of faith traditions in southeastern Connecticut that mirrors the same diversity in all of the country, there is a certain doctrine that runs through each of them: We care for our neighbor as we care for ourselves. It is in this spirit that we write of our concern about the housing crisis that wreaks havoc in our region.

    The factors that brought this crisis to the fore are clear: low-income and affordable housing construction has lagged since the 2008 recession; since the 2020 shut down, a significant number of low–rent units have been bought by investors, many given minor make-overs only to return to the market at rent levels that are beyond the means of most low-income renters. Those especially caught in this cycle are seniors living on limited and fixed incomes. While wages have stagnated for decades, the cost of housing has soared.

    The recent series produced by The Day’s Housing Solutions Lab laid bare the housing crisis’ human impact in our region. As clergy, we are seeing the suffering up close: Our homeless response system is struggling to keep up with increasing demand and too often being unable to address all the need -- we find newly unhoused people sleeping in their cars in the parking lots or green spaces where our faith communities stand; more individuals approach the congregations we serve for rent assistance or more common, assistance for paying a hotel bill, as local hotels are increasingly serving as a substitute for permanent housing. Most of those caught in this web of vulnerable circumstance live paycheck to paycheck in low-wage jobs and are one medical emergency or necessary car repair away from economic collapse.

    This crisis may seem unsurmountable. It is not. But it turns out that a key first step toward the community’s well-being is the steepest; increased empathy. In the words of Mother Theresa, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

    We have forgotten that we belong to each other. We ask that you hear our plea to remember that we belong to each other. Be assured that this crisis is solvable.

    Righting this ship asks us to change systems that prevent progress. One of those systems of greatest impact are zoning regulations. Often these regulations prevent construction of multi-dwelling units, for one. As well, although state law established a target of reaching 10% affordable housing in every community, this law has not yet prompted many communities to encourage such development.

    Organizations have a role to play in solving this crisis by correcting these systems: faith communities, Rotary, Lions Club, Elks, Chambers of Commerce, local philanthropic foundations, local hospitals, and of course, local governments. Remember that each of us as individual citizens have roles to play. Together we must raise our voices in concern and find attainable solutions that will untangle the knot that is this complex issue.

    We all want our communities to thrive and progress. Providing safe and affordable housing only amplifies that possibility.

    Through the course of this weekend, clergy of the Greater New London Clergy Association will be reminding the congregations we serve about exactly that as we shine light on this crisis. Our offerings will be donated to the Homeless Hospitality Center – an organization doing cutting edge work to rapidly rehouse those in the midst of this crisis.

    The first step in adjusting our collective sails is growing our collective empathy. We witness acts of great kindness and ingenuity in our communities. Let’s apply both to change the systems that impact our ability to solve this crisis.

    Rabbi Marc Ekstrand, Temple Emanu-El, Waterford; Reverend Carolyn Patierno, All Souls Unitarian Universalist Congregation, New London; and Reverend Adam Thomas, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Mystic, are the leadership team of the Greater Now London Clergy Association.

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