Published in The Day

By John Penney

New London ― For one local advocacy group, the affordable housing crisis is comparable to a severely bleeding patient: while it’s necessary to staunch the blood flow, it’s just as critical to find and address the cause of the injury.

A pair of newly announced “systemic change” grants awarded by the New London-based Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut to two organizations with wide community reaches aims to serve as a kind of long-term correction, President and CEO Maryam Elahi said on Tuesday.

“We want to address the root of the problem and not just offer Band-Aids,” she said. “There’s a lot of grants designed to be reactive, to help with the immediate needs of shelters and food pantries – and that’s important, too – but with these grants we wanted to address the causes of a problem, housing in particular.”

The inaugural grants, funded by an anonymous foundation donor and announced Tuesday at New London’s Homeless Hospitality Center, will provide $105,765 to the Partnership For Strong Communities group, a Hartford-based organization that will use the money to explore the housing needs of Norwich.

The funding will pay for an analysis of the city’s community housing requirements and advocate for those families suffering housing insecurity. The group, which is not a direct service provider, will work with a variety of partners, including the NAACP Robertstine Youth Council, Norwich Public Schools and the Sankofa Education and Leadership group.

Partnership Executive Director Chelsea Ross said her group operates under the guiding principal that “housing is a human right” and noted Norwich is a city whose residents, especially immigrant and first-generation immigrants, face a significant lack of affordable housing choices.

Michelle Montano, Partnership’s director of communications and policy analyst, said the grant will fund resource fairs and enable the group to gather stories from affected residents, including young people, that will be recorded and publicized.

She said her group will take the information and lobby at the local, state and federal level for long-term sustainable changes through increases in funding and enacting laws.

“That’s our bread-and-butter work,” Montano said.

Another $200,000 – both grants will be paid over two years – is earmarked for the Access Community Action Agency to aid northeastern Connecticut families with home-ownership counseling and financial literacy workshops.

Elahi said the two nonprofit agencies were selected from a pool of six or seven applicants for their past successes in community outreach and grassroots organizing.