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    Op-Ed
    Wednesday, June 12, 2024

    Lack of official interest in housing crisis is disturbing

    At a time when the affordable housing crisis is reaching critical levels in Connecticut, the absence of local elected officials at a regional convening to address the obstacles and opportunities to increase housing affordability in our region was disappointing, to say the least. The Center for Housing Equity and Opportunity, Eastern CT (CHEO) recently held its second regional convening of stakeholders, community members, clergy, advocates, and housing experts in June. All local officials from three counties were invited to the meeting. Only one elected official from the 52 towns invited showed up.

    The CHEO convened a broad tent of regional stakeholders to focus on the housing crisis in the region – and the lack of municipal leaders’ engagement on this pressing issue is both glaring and concerning. Proponents of “Local Control” argue that towns are willing, capable, and best placed to focus on housing affordability in their jurisdictions, yet nearly one hundred years of local control in Connecticut has proven that this system of land use decision-making simply does not deliver equitable access to housing opportunity in our communities.

    In the absence of leadership from the state legislature on this critical issue, municipal leaders must step up and deliver on the state’s commitment to ensure the housing needs of all community members, including and especially those that are most vulnerable, are met. Arguments against state-wide zoning reform include the notion that local land use decision-makers should be the only ones in control of what gets built – and where – in their towns. However, the majority of land use decision-making bodies in towns throughout the state are single-family homeowners. First Selectmen and Mayors have a duty to meet the significant housing needs of low-income renters at a variety of life stages in each of their communities.

    Affordable housing is not a peripheral concern; it lies at the core of societal well-being, impacting individuals, families, and entire communities. Local officials, both elected and appointed, hold a pivotal role in shaping housing policies and creating an environment where affordable housing is not a luxury but a fundamental right. By foregoing the chance to participate in the CHEO regional convening, they disregard their duty to understand and address the pressing housing needs of their constituents.

    A gathering of more than 85 people discussing how to move our region forward in addressing the lack of quality housing that is affordable to our neighbors represents a golden opportunity for leaders to engage with stakeholders, explore innovative solutions, and demonstrate their commitment to finding real remedies for those struggling to secure stable housing. Their nonattendance not only perpetuates the problem but also sends a disheartening message to the very constituents they vowed to serve.

    Regional discussions on affordable housing bring together experts, community leaders, housing advocates, residents and policymakers, fostering a rich exchange of ideas and strategies, and meaningful discourse and collaboration between key stakeholders. The absence of elected officials at tables like this leaves a void, preventing the necessary coordination and collaboration that could lead to transformative changes in Eastern Connecticut’s housing system. It goes without saying that the failure of chief elected municipal officials to show up underscores the sense that those struggling in our housing markets are unheard and marginalized.

    Showing up and being a part of the discussion of regional housing solutions that increase housing affordability in eastern Connecticut is not an option but an obligation. It is past the time for elected officials to step up, show up, and work towards meaningful solutions to address the affordable housing crisis that is threatening our region, pricing out more than 50% of renters, and forcing low-income households to make tough choices between paying for food, medication, childcare, and rent.

    Silence is no longer an option. If local elected officials want to maintain “local control” over housing, they must be accountable and responsive to the urgent housing needs in our communities. They need to recognize the significance of their presence and actively engage in discussions that directly affect the well-being of all of the people they are elected to serve.

    Beth Sabilia is the Director of the Center for Housing Equity and Opportunity in Eastern Connecticut.

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