President Barack Obama once said, “a child’s course in life should be determined not by the zip code she’s born in, but by the strength of her work ethic and the scope of her dreams.” Yet we know where a child is born, and grows up, affects their future education, finances, and health. However, changing one’s zip code is not always easy. From the availability of affordable housing to systemic policies hindering mobility, there are a myriad of factors limiting families’ mobility. Now is the time to urge state lawmakers to support legislation to dismantle discriminatory practices and advance fair housing in Connecticut.
The U.S. is facing an affordable housing crisis. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates a shortage of 6.8 million affordable and available rental homes for low- income renters. Nationally, only 37 out of every 100 extremely low-income families have access to available affordable housing. In Connecticut, only 11.6% of rental units are affordable for low-income families. The majority of these properties are located in areas with limited access to high performing schools and employment.
In Connecticut, 85% of government-subsidized units are located in moderate, low, or very low opportunity areas. This shortage disproportionately affects people of color: 73% of Black and Latino families live in low opportunity areas compared to 26% of white families, according to the Open Communities Alliance Out of Balance report. This limited availability of affordable, quality rental properties is compounded by historic and systemic policies hindering mobility in Connecticut.
Redlining began in the 1930s and its resultant disinvestment in minority neighborhoods continues to have effects today. While overt discriminatory practices were outlawed following the Fair Housing Act of 1968, more subtle, and often deliberate, policies and practices were enacted that continued to disadvantage inner city neighborhoods. Out of the 11.6% of rental units in Connecticut that are affordable to low income families statewide, 39.3% of those units are in the city of Hartford compared to 7.9% in the bordering town of West Hartford and 4.1% in the nearby suburb of Avon. We must work together to provide opportunity for all families and diversify housing options in our communities.
There are many benefits to housing diversity. From economics to education to health, we understand diverse communities are important, particularly for children. This is something I’ve experience firsthand. I was deeply embarrassed by where I lived as a child. I can still vividly recall the feeling of dread when called upon to recite my address in middle school Spanish class. It was not the vocabulary that left me hesitant; rather, it was telling my peers that I lived in a low-income apartment complex funded by Section 8 that left me ashamed. I was embarrassed that my family needed government assistance to meet our basic needs, from housing to food to even clothing.
Only in hindsight did I realize these resources allowed my single mother to save money, obtain a better job, and ultimately build a better life for us. I was afforded the opportunity to attend high achieving schools, which ultimately allowed me to pursue a career as a physician. Now in my work, I often see myself reflected in the patients and families I work with. Many struggle with providing basic needs but all hope to build a better life for their children. With all of the inequalities they already face, how can they also strive against the systemic policies and practices in place?
Fortunately, when intentional inequalities and deliberate discriminatory policies are in place, they can be consciously dismantled. There are a variety of recommendations to improve this problem, from investing in segregated communities to increasing homeownership opportunities for minority families to advocating for housing diversity.
Desegregate Connecticut, a coalition of community members and nonprofit organizations that educates and advocates for housing reform, recommends a variety of interventions through zoning reform. Diversifying housing stock through multifamily homes, accessory dwelling units, and encouraging Connecticut cities and towns to incorporate more affordable housing units will increase the availability of affordable housing and diversify our communities.
These recommendations are laid out in Connecticut Senate Bill 1024, which I urge you to support. This issue is complex, but the facts remain that children growing up in poverty-stricken areas are far more disadvantaged and moving to better neighborhoods changes lives. Please visit Desegregate Connecticut to learn more about why and how you can help. Then ask your state legislators to vote in favor of Senate Bill 1024 to bring about a more equitable and diverse Connecticut.
Jing Marrero is a pediatric resident from South Windsor.