Published in The Chronicle

By Michelle Warren

WILLIMANTIC — One out of nine Americans and one out of eight children live in poverty, according to Community Foundation of Eastern CT Chief Executive Officer Maryam Elahi.

“It’s just not justifiable,” she said during a housing forum at Eastern Connecticut State University Monday morning. “We don’t accept that and that’s why we’re here today.”

The forum, which was held at the Student Center at Eastern, was hosted by the Center for Housing Equity and Opportunity (CHEO) of Eastern Connecticut as part of a series of ongoing conversations about the need for affordable housing in Eastern Connecticut.

CHEO is a partnership between Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, Connecticut College, Eastern Connecticut State University, The Housing Collective, Partnership for Strong Communities, Regional Plan Association and United Way of Southeastern Connecticut.

The partnership, which serves 42 towns in Windham, Tolland and New London counties, is designed to address housing issues in Eastern Connecticut.

Eastern Connecticut State University President Elsa Nuñez said there are two Eastern students working with CHEO Director Beth Sabilia, who was once the mayor of New London, as interns.

She said Eastern staff are “ecstatic” to host the event and be involved in the conversations about housing issues.

“Thank you for attending the session and supporting Eastern as a taxpayer,” Nuñez said.

CHEO created three working groups following a survey issued to stakeholders in March: Narrative Change, Affordable Housing Preservation and Protection and Affordable Housing Production and Capacity Building.

According to data she presented on Monday, 20% of Connecticut homeowners who don’t have a mortgage are cost-burdened, meaning they spend 30% or more of their income on housing expenses.

Data also shows that 30% of Connecticut homeowners with a mortgage are cost-burdened.

Elahi said the last legislative session “failed us” in terms of addressing the

need for affordable housing in the state.

She said the goal is to create a state that is “not segregated, that is welcoming to everyone.”

Connecticut Department of Housing Deputy Commissioner Brandon McGee Jr. said affordable rent, as well as access to quality housing, is “extremely important.”

“Some people will never get to own their own home,” he said. “That’s OK.”

McGee said it is important to address racism when talking about housing issues, noting there are some people in the state who “don’t want anybody who looks like myself or some of you in this room in their community.”

“It’s real and I hope you’re all getting uncomfortable, because we’re talking about equity and opportunity,” he said.

Access Community Action Agency President/ CEO Peter Dibiasi agreed with McGee.

“It’s not just about the white middle class,” he said. “We can’t pretend that’s not part of the conversation.”

McGee said leaders are working hard to figure out how to address “deplorable conditions” in some Connecticut communities, giving a shout-out to Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, who attended the forum, for his work on the issue.

He mentioned that Gov. Ned Lamont committed over $810 million over the next two years for housing development and housing assistance in the budget for fiscal years 2024 and 2025, which Lamont signed into law on Monday.

“There are so many opportunities but we’ve got to recognize the importance of doing things differently on this side of the state,” McGee said.