Published July 22, 2021
By Michelle Warren
WILLIMANTIC — Connecticut Legal Services Staff Attorney Ashley Daley said 30 percent of Willimantic folks live in poverty and the median household income is $40,000.
As a result, she emphasized the importance of providing legal assistance to low-income individuals, who, she said, are very vulnerable in eviction proceedings.
In an effort to better serve community members, the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut recently awarded a $200,000 grant to Connecticut Legal Services Inc. to hire a housing attorney to serve the Thread City.
Daley began the position in June at the Willimantic office, which is at 1125 Main St.
“We know that stable housing affects employment, education, food, health, safety and many other factors,” Daley said during a press conference at the Willimantic Public Library Tuesday morning.
“This is why evictions are not the product of poverty, but the cause of it.”
Daley said the home ownership rate in Windham was 37 percent in 2018, meaning 63 percent of the population were renting their homes.
She thanked the foundation for “funding this important work to keep residents housed and to prevent an increase in homelessness.”
The grant will be used to pay for Daley’s salary and services over two years.
According to the foundation, the addition of a Willimantic-based attorney will allow for more than 75 additional families to be represented by legal counsel focusing on housing during the first year of the grant.
Eastern Connecticut State University President Elsa Núñez, a member of the foundation’s development committee, spoke about the initiative during the press conference.
“We know from the literature that one of the main traumas for children is instability in housing,” she said.
Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut President/CEO Maryam Elahi spoke about the importance of investing in early childhood care, housing and mental wellness.
“This is about system change,” she said.
Elahi said the press conference was intended to emphasize how important the new position is and the “right to accessible, inclusive, safe housing is in our communities.”
She noted the “historic injustice needs to be rectified.”
Windham Mayor Thomas DeVivo said he has seen the “devastation” people undergo when they lose their housing.
“Thank you for doing this and funding this important initiative in town,” he said, noting it is a “long time coming.”
The opportunity is a meaningful one for Daley, who grew up in Hartford, a disadvantaged community.
She graduated from Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and the University of Connecticut Law School.
While in law school, Daley served as a legislative fellow for the state legislature and interned at the Center for Children’s Advocacy.
“Words can not express how grateful I am to be able to fill this role and how much this role actually means and what it will do for the Willimantic community,” she said.
Connecticut Legal Services Deputy Director Anne Louise Blanchard said during the pandemic, it became more apparent how important it is for people to have access to stable housing.
She said Connecticut Legal Services staff are “extraordinarily grateful” to the foundation for recognizing the need and providing the funding to hire Daley.
The Connecticut Legal Services office in Willimantic can be reached by calling 860-456-1761.
More information about Connecticut Legal Services is available online at www.ctlegal.org.