Published in The Day

By Johana Vazquez

New London ― Members of local nonprofits, land trusts, colleges and banks gathered in a reception room at Connecticut College Thursday with one focus: improving affordable and equitable housing in the region.

The organizations are part of the Center for Housing Equity and Opportunity, a coalition working to address barriers to housing opportunities. The Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut initiated the center, bringing together the founding partners and investors.

The center will work with 42 towns now serviced by the community foundation, and anticipates later including 10 more towns in New London, Windham and Tolland counties.

Connecticut College and Eastern Connecticut State University are two of the founding partners. Katherine Bergeron, president of the college, provided opening remarks saying she was proud the college was at the table, having a long tradition of community engagement with initiatives done by the school’s Holleran Center.

She said three other institutions of higher education were present at the meeting _ Eastern, Mitchell College and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy.

Maryam Elahi, president and chief executive officer of the community foundation, said seeing the room full of attendees was a sight for sore eyes. She said children need safe and affordable housing in order to be successful.

“Housing is the first stepping stone,” Elahi said.

Officially starting as the center’s director on March 27, Beth Sabilia is already working. Sabilia spent time during the meeting enlisting organizations to work on different ad hoc groups that will address issues that get in the way of equitable housing, such as the production of affordable housing, its preservation and protection, technical assistance to towns and developers, and advocacy.

The groups will meet monthly to discuss possible solutions with everyone convening again quarterly to reflect on the progress they have made.

Sabilia did a short presentation and said forming the center matters because the burden of housing costs affect regional and economic growth. She said about 50% of households in the 52 towns are cost-burdened, paying more than 30% of their income towards housing.

Sabilia said the three counties can expect a continuing decrease in available affordable units as hundreds of developments with affordability deed-restrictions expire in the next decade. According to National Housing Preservation Database, 797 units in New London County are at-risk, as they face an expiring affordability restriction between now and 2027.

Sabilia said the center’s mission will be to “align a diverse coalition of practitioners, policymakers, residents, and community organizations to collectively identify and build upon community-driven and data-informed solutions that preserve, protect, and produce safe and affordable housing for all.”

The center’s goals will include creating a shared regional housing agenda, supporting existing efforts throughout the region, building inter-organizational connections and changing the narrative surrounding affordable housing.

“This is up to us to solve in the collective,” Sabilia told everyone. “There is not a magic single plan.”