Recent news that Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin had highlighted the issue of housing and its impact on urban municipalities was extremely encouraging. Moreover, when The Mirror reported that Gov. Ned Lamont sought to incentivize affluent communities to create affordable housing by prioritizing state funding for transportation in those towns, it seemed an appropriate and strategic move. But there is a critical piece missing, one that could both address the problem and also bolster legislation that state leaders overwhelmingly supported last session: teacher diversity. The solution should include Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona’s proposal to create affordable housing for educators, which was part of the legislative package approved by the State Board of Education this month.
Affluent communities should be encouraged to create affordable housing, no argument there. Housing in Connecticut has created a dichotomy in our state. But our urban centers also should have quality, affordable housing available to people who work in those cities – municipal workers generally, and teachers specifically. As USA Today reported last year, new teachers cannot afford median rent in most places, and many live far from the schools where they teach. As workers increasingly seek the convenience of urban living, rents have skyrocketed, leaving many locked out.
Municipalities benefit when their public servants are part of the fabric. And while Gov. Lamont has stressed the need for a diverse teaching workforce, based on students who pursue education or a related major, teaching is not the chosen profession of enough people of color to meet the goals of its recently passed legislation. One way to change that is through grow-your-own initiatives, and the best way to seed that is by ensuring that those who currently live in those communities choose to stay.
That starts with quality affordable housing.
Commissioner Cardona’s proposal, an iteration of HB7226, would enable him, in collaboration with the Commissioner of Housing, to create a pilot program that offers housing incentives for shortage area teachers to live within the Alliance District communities where they teach. Thirty-three school districts have the Alliance designation; none of them are affluent, but include large urban centers and inner ring suburbs. They are also the lowest-performing districts in the state.
If we truly want to dissipate the concentration of poverty in our state, achieve the goal of a diverse teaching corps, and ensure all our students have access to quality education, affordable housing in struggling school districts is a key piece of the puzzle.
Andréa Comer is Executive Director of Educators for Excellence-Connecticut.