State Rep. Brandon McGee and Sen. Saud Anwar propose a 'Right to Housing' while surrounded by advocates and other legislators

On any given day, some 3,000 people are homeless in Connecticut. With that number in mind, legislators and advocates Monday rallied around housing reforms – dubbed “Right to Housing” changes – to reduce homelessness, bring down housing costs and confront housing segregation.

It’s an effort to ensure that every resident has access to housing in one of the most expensive places in the country to live.

“We as a state have reached a point that we need to declare that we need to aspire to be a ‘Right to Housing’ state,” said State Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor. “We are a segregated state. Look at the numbers. Those numbers are not sustainable for any community – any state – and we as the state of Connecticut have allowed it to happen.”

“We’re definitely going to be pushing forward with the Right to Housing Agenda,” added State Rep. Brandon McGee, D-Hartford. He and Anwar are chairmen of the legislature’s Housing Committee.

Their remarks came during a midday press conference at the State Capitol complex, and were applauded by housing advocates and the mayor of Hartford, who surrounded them as they announced their agenda for the legislative session that begins next week.

“Everybody deserves a safe, stable place to call home.”

Executive Director Kiley Gosselin
Partnership for Strong Communities

“Everybody deserves a safe, stable place to call home, or a right to housing,” said Kiley Gosselin, the executive director of the Partnership for Strong Communities, an advocacy group that lobbies for housing reforms.

“Right to Housing” is not a new concept worldwide – France, Scotland and South Africa have such protections in place, according to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. But Connecticut, which has some of the most expensive housing stock in the nation, is one of the first states to consider such a push.

Specifics of what that agenda will look like are a work in progress. But initiatives embraced Monday by the Democratic legislators include making it easier for lower-income residents to purchase homes, putting tenant protections in place to reduce eviction rates, building more affordable housing and making some state aid contingent on well-off communities allowing more affordable housing construction.

Lawmakers also called for more robust mobility counseling, which helps people searching for housing to overcome discrimination or limited housing options in communities where they hope to move.

Over the past year, CT Mirror and ProPublica have investigated the lengths wealthy towns have gone to block affordable housing – and, by extension, the people who need it. These exclusionary zoning requirements have rendered Connecticut one of the most segregated states in the nation.

The stories also examine how the state and federal government are funneling money to build housing for the poor to already-impoverished neighborhoods, and how the concentration of affordable housing in high-poverty neighborhoods results in Section 8 voucher holders being marooned there.

An abandoned house on Allendale Road in the Behind-the-Rocks neighborhood of Hartford. Monica Jorge

“In order to address housing [segregation], we need housing,” said Anwar, calling it a “no-brainer” solution.

Democrats hold strong majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, and so McGee and Anwar, both Democrats, will get to set that agenda.

Last week, Gov. Ned Lamont and Senate Democrats said they intend to take on housing. Lamont, a Democrat, said he wants to link state transportation spending with well-off communities’ willingness to allow affordable housing and wants more market-rate units in cities.

The chairs of the Housing Committee on Monday called the governor’s approach a decent one, but not enough by itself.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Anwar. “We appreciate his leadership, but we want more.” Last year, the governor didn’t propose any new funds dedicated to building affordable housing.

It’s clear that tackling housing segregation and quality is a priority for officials this session, an emphasis applauded by Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin. Thirty-nine percent of the housing stock in Hartford is reserved for low-income residents, a dynamic that hinders the city’s ability to raise revenue from property taxes to fund things like schools, sidewalk repairs and trash pickup.

“For far too long in this state, that responsibility of providing affordable housing has been borne by a very small number of communities.”

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin

“We have to acknowledge the housing quality crisis that we have in many of our communities,” Bronin said. “We have to recognize that there is a wealth of research out there that shows the best way to combat poverty is to create economically diverse communities. The reality is that for far too long in this state, that responsibility of providing affordable housing has been borne by a very small number of communities. Here in Hartford, we’re proud to do that, because it is needed. But it shouldn’t be just a handful of communities. … This should be a shared responsibility.”

Anwar agreed, saying that critical to passing  a “Right to Housing” agenda is to remind people just how segregated this state is.

“When you have those conversations and you hear people who are using excuses to continue to have segregation: rise up, wake, call them out. Because the status quo is not sustainable,” he said.

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.

Jenna is CT Mirror’s Health Reporter, focusing on health access, affordability, quality, equity and disparities, social determinants of health, health system planning, infrastructure, processes, information systems, and other health policy. Before joining CT Mirror Jenna was a reporter at The Hartford Courant for 10 years, where she consistently won statewide and regional awards. Jenna has a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Quinnipiac University and a Bachelor or Arts degree in Journalism from Grand Valley State University.

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13 Comments

  1. The “right” to housing. The “right to healthcare.” The “right” to food. The “right” to a cellphone. The “right” to wifi access. I’m still looking in the constitution for these “rights.”

    Pretty soon we taxpayers will have the “right” to hand over our entire paychecks to the Federal and state plunderers who pose as our elected officials.

    1. Your comment resonates. We already have a right to housing. I have a right to live in a beachfront mansion – but I can’t afford it, so I live elsewhere.
      When people talk about these rights, what they really mean is that they want someone else to foot the bill.

  2. Being poor sucks. It sucks in a way that people who have never been poor can’t truly grasp. It sucks because you just don’t have the options that other people have.
    But instead of spending resources to put “affordable” housing in wealthier communities, we should spend those resources making the existing section 8 areas safer.
    And the segregation they’re talking about is just economics – it’s cheaper and more efficient to maintain and let multi-unit buildings in Hartford than it is to maintain and let multiple single family homes in Greenwich. That’s it. There’s no other nefarious reason.
    Does it suck? Yes! But the taxpayers can’t afford to make everything great.

  3. Politicians who throw the word “segregated” around are smart enough to know the visceral response it provokes but otherwise ignorant. While they use the term, they ignore the reality of their party membership which has been marked by decades of leadership in the areas with the most poverty and decades of failed social welfare policy. Yet, they have the audacity to come to the legislature and tell us there is a problem, cast others as segregationists, and suggest that they know the solution.

  4. The word “right” is word that is being taken out of context. Everyone already has a “right” to housing. The only requirement for housing is to pay the rent or a mortgage. It is not impossible, but rather a matter of choice, and I acknowledge that it may be an extremely difficult road for some when they have no education, a disability or nothing to start with. (The article is focused on the poor and not the mentally ill who will not be helped by low income housing). Not everyone in the burbs was born into money. Anwar is right to say the status quo is not acceptable. Let me know when he puts forth a bill to address the employment issues surrounding the spiking of pensions, the double dipping, and all the issues already known. Then we’ll have tons of money to build better roads to the burbs for the give away housing…

    1. On the subject of the mentally ill, I want to point out that housing is very important. How can a person who doesn’t have a place to live safely store prescription medications? How can they work consistently on their recovery with a therapist when they have to spend all their time and energy looking for a place to sleep, or to find some food/

      1. That’s why I specifically pointed that out the article doesn’t address the state’s abandonment of folks that really need help. I have an issue with general give aways to folks that are comfortable in a class that won’t pull up their boot straps to get ahead. I live in a a diverse neighborhood where people work hard to better themselves and provide for the families without being in the system. We are not rich politicians or billionaires but we are not in slums where drug sales and criminal activity is the norm. Anyone can do the same with the same hard work, everyone already has the “right”.

      2. Our society once took care of its own. Sadly, the people have been trained to depend on the government and that was the recipe for the homelessness we face, today.

  5. I wonder how many of these dems are willing to build these in there towns. They all talk good. Can they prove it. We can close down the golf courses in Fairfield county and use the land for the public housing. Also how is Hartford going to get any money if not federally funded. 39% is a lot of hud . Money to give up

  6. Keep importing “migrants” and giving them free everything and put the final nail in Connecticut’s coffin. Sanctuary policies have destroyed this and other states, but nothing is learned.

  7. The Sanctuary policies of the state are reckless at best and deadly in reality. As our entrenched Democrats point fingers at a few doctors, and pharmacies they can bleed dry (the pill makers of LEGALLY approved substances), the cartels from the Islands, Mexico and China are shipping in the street drugs responsible for the carnage in Connecticut. Now its housing? This is plantation living at its best! Housing in Connecticut is more affordable now than it has been in the last 15 years. This is a corporate apartment builder’s dream and it is a lie. Our inner cities deserve much better leadership.

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