People wait for the bus on Park Street in the Frog Hollow neighborhood of Hartford. Yehyun Kim / ctmirror.org

The CT affordable housing agenda has little to do with even handedness. Rather it is a tacit admission that no one has the appetite nor interest in improving urban conditions. There is plenty of housing stock in our cities at very reasonable prices. But these areas also have high crime rates and low school test scores. So no one wants to live there.

The housing advocates are disingenuous because they won’t admit their real goals. First, they want the government and not the marketplace to set housing prices in successful, well-run communities. Second, they want “virtue signaling” credit for showing their concern for low-income urban dwellers. This eliminates any urgency to actually fix dysfunctional municipalities. That’s because it is heavy lifting to improve inner city living conditions. It means discussing touchy issues. It is much easier to scream racism and guilt trip officials into making ill advised zoning changes.

The touchiest issue of all is quality of life. It is the third rail in urban politics. Yet it is is the single most important factor that drives all successful neighborhoods. People decide where to live, raise families, and invest their money based on the attractiveness of a location. So how have Connecticut’s cities managed to not address this issue for decades? The reason is that quality of life inevitably boils down to discussing behavior. And that is taboo. My hometown, Hartford, is a perfect example.

Enormous hypocrisy rests with Hartford’s elected officials. For decades they pretended that the city’s shortcomings were due to everything but standards of living. The talk is always about getting someone else to solve its problems. These office holders are delighted to consider a subject such as banning flavored tobacco. This while ignoring the critical issues of crime, education, and taxes. The future does not look promising. There is no upside for a politician to challenge the status quo. Once in office, these people have a lifetime job. The last thing they want is an uncomfortable conversation about living conditions.

Year after year residents hear about the need to increase home ownership or attract more businesses and jobs to the city. The reality is these investments flow to where a good quality of life already exists. No one invests in something hoping it might improve some day! But behavior can’t be mentioned for fear of offending someone. A simple example involves adult males riding childrens’ bikes in my Frog Hollow neighborhood. They wear long, winter coats in 90 degree heat and simply ride up and down the street looking for business. How much political courage does it take to suggest they are in the drug trade and not practicing for the Tour de France? But any suggestion that this type of behavior directly impacts Hartford’s well being is prohibited.

There is much good will for Hartford and other cities. Everyone wants them to prosper. People will continue to give their time and money. But they won’t wade into the quality-of-life fight. First, any talk of individual accountability from an outsider usually brings one of two responses. Either the person is labeled a racist for suggesting that behavior counts. Or second we hear from the gigantic chip on the city’s shoulder. That goes like this: if you don’t live here then you have no right to comment on urban issues. That’s ridiculous given the enormous amount of money these areas receive from Connecticut taxpayers. Unfortunately all these areas believe they are one big project away from a magnificent revitalization. Worthwhile endeavors might add to a good quality of life, but they won’t create one.

Hartford and other cities are once again at a crossroads. It is an opportunity to not only admit that behavior counts, but to act on it. Unfortunately the signs are not good. It appears our representatives will once again look to the advice of the famous Yankee catcher, Yogi Berra. He said, “When you come to a fork in the road, you should take it.” Tragically, it appears that’s exactly the direction that will continue to be taken in our urban areas by housing advocates.

Vincent Turley lives in Hartford.

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