Published on March 6, 2020
By Matt Grahn

NORWICH — Affordable housing is in demand in New London County, but many municipalities have a history of resisting construction within their borders. That has created difficulties and setbacks for those who live in cities and towns with high volumes of affordable housing.

That was one of the key points that came out of a talk hosted by the CT Mirror at the Spa at Norwich Inn on Friday morning. “Separated By Design--A Deep Dive Into Affordable Housing” talked about issues ranging from where affordable housing can be built, to the importance of education for low income people and people of color.

The Bulletin subscribes to and runs content from the Mirror, a digital news site based in Hartford.

Mirror reporter Jacqueline Rabe Thomas opened the event with a presentation on her findings. Since more rural and suburban areas in New London County, such as Old Lyme and Waterford, have a recent history of resisting the construction of affordable housing, she argued it can have negative outcomes on children.

For example, Rabe Thomas cited, saying children growing up in Norwich, New London or Windham are four times more likely to be incarcerated, and will grow up to make half the income of their neighbors.

“We, as a state, have, year after year, made the decision to put these houses in struggling communities,” she said.

After Rabe Thomas’ presentation, a discussion was held where she was joined by Erin Kemple, Nick Fischer, and State Sen. Saud Anwar, whose district covers East Hartford, Ellington, East Windsor and South Windsor.

Anwar, who is also a medical doctor, called his current legislation “a prescription” to help fix issues around affordable housing. This is through preventing homelessness, helping people who might lose their home and building more affordable housing.

“We are being very reactive in our policies,” he said. “If we do not have a goal, then we’re not going anywhere.”

Kemple, executive director for the Hartford-based Connecticut Fair Housing Center, wanted to make a connection between discrimination and affordable housing. She said affordable housing is more likely to be allowed in rural and suburban areas when it’s age-restricted, rather than family housing.

“If you put in elderly housing, you’re going to get a majority white population living there,” she said.

All of the people on the discussion panel agreed that access to education through better housing is important. However, Fischer, a former New London schools superintendent, said teachers and students also need to be inviting, so lower income and minority students can succeed.

Fischer mentioned he got comments from parents at athletic events about how New London students from different backgrounds were comfortable sitting near each other.

“You can put kids in the same classroom, but it doesn’t mean they talk to each other,” he said.

After the discussion ended, members of the audience carried on the discussion on their own. Bruce Putterman, publisher and CEO of the Mirror, said he plans on bringing these discussions to the general public. He said this talk, which was also held on Feb. 27 in New London, is their first step in doing so.

Sheri Taylor, a mentor at the Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication in New London, said she loves these conversations, but “it needs to be happening on a regular basis.”

She also said it was important to talk about issues like education and affordable housing, but she said those who are most in need likely can’t make a daytime event.

“The people who need to be here are working two or three jobs, and it needs to be in the evening,” Taylor said.

At a glance:

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas, reporter for the CT Mirror cited, saying children growing up in Norwich, New London or Windham are four times more likely to incarcerated, and will grow up to make half the income of their neighbors.