Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin at Westbrook Village Jacqueline Rabe Thomas / CtMirror.org

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.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin at Westbrook Village, a public housing complex that is being torn down and rebuilt.

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.

Jacqueline Rabe Thomas

Jacqueline was CT Mirror’s Education and Housing Reporter, and an original member of the CT Mirror staff, joining shortly before our January 2010 launch. Her awards include the best-of-show Theodore A. Driscoll Investigative Award from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists in 2019 for reporting on inadequate inmate health care, first-place for investigative reporting from the New England Newspaper and Press Association in 2020 for reporting on housing segregation, and two first-place awards from the National Education Writers Association in 2012. She was selected for a prestigious, year-long Propublica Local Reporting Network grant in 2019, exploring a range of affordable and low-income housing issues. Before joining CT Mirror, Jacqueline was a reporter, online editor and website developer for The Washington Post Co.’s Maryland newspaper chains. Jacqueline received an undergraduate degree in journalism from Bowling Green State University and a master’s in public policy from Trinity College.

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9 Comments

  1. Making noise about building more affordable housing in the suburbs, is nothing more than misdirection. Moving a small group of families outside of Hartford will not fix the crime, poverty and failing school system. Sure, those children may do a little better, but Hartford’s problems will remain the same. Politicians that want to export their problems, merely lack the will and capacity to fix what ails their own city.

  2. Bravo. Concentrated poverty and economic and racial segregation are the most serious problems facing our cities. These issues are inexorably related to many other issues as well such as education, health and economic development. These issues cannot be addressed by the cities themselves. Agressive action is needed by the state.

    1. Dear Mr Erdmann,
      Can you please explain how this fixes the crime, poverty and failing school system in the City of Hartford. This approach seems to be more akin to diluting and exporting the problem, with the intent to mask it. As opposed to tackling it head on, and fixing what ails it within the boundries of the City of Hartford.

  3. Bronin and his ilk are the same folks who scream “gentrification” if white people start buying into a city and renovating properties.

    1. Hi George, in the interest of fostering deeper discussion, can you provide a citation for your claim about Bronin turning away prospective residents or developers over concerns about gentrification?

    2. Hi George, in the interest of fostering deeper discussion, can you provide a citation for your claim about Bronin turning away prospective residents or developers over concerns about gentrification?

  4. Luke would serve his constituency better by working to solve the problems that have caused the low property values in his city rather than attacking the constituencies and their municipalities with higher property values. Everyone knows what those problems are and why property values are low where the problems exist and higher where those problems do not. It’s not a secret, there is no magic involved, and high property values are not nefarious, it’s just common sense.

    Of course, talking is usually easier than doing.

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