Uttering the words “affordable housing” in my town is akin to an act of war. Defenses are thrown up, accusations of “racist” vie with those of “socialist,” the occasional allusion to legal threats is made – -and that’s just the debate as played out in Facebook threads. Our town’s bucolic two-acre zoning laws are an endless source of pleasure for those able to afford the beauty and privacy of our town, and an endless supply of denial as to the zoning codes’ insidiously exclusionary nature.
This is why I was thrilled to see Mayor Justin Elicker’s opinion piece, “Let’s tax Connecticut’s segregation.” As a resident of one “those” towns, YES – tax us! Tax us unless we choose the alternative and figure out how to make affordable housing work for our town.
To address the major defense so many set forth in support of retaining our zoning codes: it does not matter whether we, in 2020, intend to be racist with our zoning laws. That question is irrelevant to the task at hand. The only question is whether such zoning codes perpetuate segregation – and that question has been answered many times over.
If my neighbors and I love our two-acre zoning so much that we prefer to facilitate racist, exclusionary policies, then we should be willing to pay a premium for it: I will call this the Equity Tax.
Let us be very aware, however, that Mayor Elicker’s proposal is merely step one. At a minimum, three additional steps are required to ensure the usefulness of the equity tax:
- Effective enforcement: Statute 8-30g has been in existence since 1989. For every year going forward in which a town does not have fully operational and occupied Affordable Housing, levy the tax. Towns have had 30 years to comply with the act, to take this one step forward in the fight to equalize opportunity for all. The time for excuses is over. Taxes should be imposed immediately: no moratoriums, no excuses. We should be pleased so long as punitive, regressive fines are not also imposed.
- The proceeds of these taxes must be used solely for efforts to end inequality within our state’s borders. All funds should be directed to a lock-boxed “Equity Initiative.” Legislators should work arm in arm with those who are at the greatest disadvantage in our state to determine what corrective initiatives are most needed: education? Access to healthy food and safe shelter? Social work assistance? Police reform? After needs are prioritized by those most informed of what is needed, the Equity Initiative can allot money efficaciously and efficiently.
- We must remember that money alone will not solve the ills of inequality. We must remember that the Equity Tax and Equity Initiative would be just one step in the fight against the generations of inequalities that define American society today. If we want our capitalistic democracy to succeed, to truly be a beacon of life, liberty, and happiness, we need to reexamine every piece of our lives for improvement.
Generations before us have brought us to this point. We have made so much progress since 1776, since 1865, since the 1960s. But we are not yet equal.
It will take generations yet to win this war. Mayor Elicker’s idea is one way to take one more step forward: it is one more way of dismantling the infrastructures that perpetuate racism. We need more ideas like this. We need to be open to creative, effective legislation to ensure equality for all is not just a truism.
Therefore, in the absence of any other idea of similar force and effect, Mayor Elicker’s proposed tax is one I wholly support.
Effie Thieme lives in Weston.