Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin called on state leaders Friday to stop segregating his city through regressive housing policies.
Standing in a neighborhood where almost half of the housing is reserved exclusively for the poor – because that’s where state and federal officials have routed funding for subsidized affordable housing – the Democratic mayor pointed out the need for more diversity. Citywide, 39% of the housing in Hartford is reserved for the poor.
“That is off the charts,” he said. “We have to do that because most communities around the state refuse to let it be built in their community … We talk always in our cities about combating poverty and trying to help families lift themselves up, but the truth is that we have a high poverty rate in our communities, in part, because we have — by policy — made this a community that can only be poor.”
Bronin went on to say that these policies restrict “many, many units” in Hartford to poor people, while the poor are simultaneously shut out of housing in surrounding, wealthier communities.
As Bronin made these remarks Friday during a press conference calling on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to focus on “breaking up concentrations of poverty,” federal lawmakers, housing advocates and those who live in the neighborhood interrupted with cheers.
“Uh huh, good words, true words,” said Pastor AJ Johnson of Urban Hope Refuge Church.
In the Hartford region, the gap between the rich and poor is wider than two-thirds of country. Hispanic residents live in more segregated neighborhoods than 98% of the country, while black residents live in neighborhoods more segregated than 91% of the country, census data shows. The make-up of a town’s housing is especially important in Connecticut because local property taxes play a huge role in funding services like education, police and sidewalk repairs.
“We talk always in our cities about combating poverty and trying to help families lift themselves up, but the truth is that we have a high poverty rate in our communities, in part, because we have — by policy — made this a community that can only be poor.”
Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin
“This does require a broader conversation at the state level. There are actions that can be taken,” Bronin said.
Over the last year, CT Mirror and ProPublica have investigated the policies that created these swaths of segregated housing. The stories examine how towns block affordable housing through exclusionary zoning, how the state and federal government are funneling money to build housing for the poor to impoverished neighborhoods, and how the concentration of affordable housing in high-poverty neighborhoods results in Section 8 voucher holders being marooned in struggling neighborhoods.
“The better result for everyone – not just for Hartford but the entire state – would be to create more economic diversity in our communities, to end the exclusionary zoning practices at the local level and the effective exclusionary funding practices at the state level that concentrate further and further and further the poverty that we face,” said Bronin.
Max Reiss, Gov. Ned Lamont’s spokesman, said the administration is ready to talk about this issue.
“Mayor Luke Bronin is right in that cities must work with the state on how to address the issue of affordable housing and opening opportunity for all residents. This is an important discussion for the state to have, which is welcomed by the administration,” said Reiss in a statement.
Asked about housing segregation on WNPR’s public affair radio show “Where We live” earlier this month, Lamont said he plans to leave these decisions to local officials, but will be “arguing to them loud and clear” the value of having affordable housing.
In response, Sara Bronin – chairman of Hartford’s Planning and Zoning Commission, an expert in zoning laws at UConn Law School, and the mayor’s spouse – wrote on Twitter, “Yeah, arguing won’t work. #exclusionaryzoning #landofsteadyhabits. “
U.S. Sens Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal and U.S. Rep. John Larson called on HUD Friday to build more mixed-income housing in Hartford, instead of focusing on housing entirely reserved for the poor. They also asked the federal agency to raise the amount Section 8 vouchers are worth so that voucher holders can afford to live in better neighborhoods, and increase the enforcement of fair housing laws to reduce discrimination.
These calls follow backlash from residents in the northern part of Hartford over the substandard conditions of HUD-funded housing — and the few options they have when they had to move.
“There are 169 towns in Connecticut, and I would challenge each and every town and the folks who live in those towns, to look at the situation and ask themselves why is there no affordable housing where I live,” said Rev. Johnson.