Connecticut is facing a major housing affordability crisis with half of all renters paying 30% or more of their income on housing. Rents increased throughout Connecticut in 2022, making it more difficult for low-income renters to find housing.
To correct these critical barriers and advance housing equity, I urge legislators to pass housing protections for vulnerable Connecticut residents (Senate Bill 36) and expand access to affordable housing (Senate Bill 211).
Bridget’s story captures why these legislative actions are so important. I met with Bridget (a pseudonym) on Zoom during Connecticut’s COVID-19 Delta wave. Through repeated interruptions from young children ‘tele-learning’, Bridget shared her story of homelessness and difficulty finding stable housing in Connecticut. Bridget had recently moved into an apartment after living in a homeless shelter for several months. She explained, “I was fleeing a domestic violence, so my face was fractured in four different places…. Obviously, I went to [the shelter]…and they were able to get me section 8… thankfully, but it’s been a process.”
That “process” was made more difficult because Bridget had an eviction on her record – an eviction prompted by the violence she experienced. Currently, SB 36 seeks to provide housing protection for victims of domestic violence like Bridget by preventing landlords from taking certain adverse actions against them, including eviction.
Although she had been living in her previous apartment for ten years, Bridget’s landlord evicted her and her children after the assault. She explained that once the landlord “found out that [the abuser] was no longer able to be on premises near me because of the severity of my wounds, they [the landlord] pretty much started the eviction.” Too often, landlords evict tenants under ‘nuisance’ clauses following domestic violence incidents or find other ways to void the lease to get the victim off of their property.
Preventing evictions of domestic violence survivors is critical not only for their immediate housing needs, but also because an eviction can be a crippling blemish on a renter’s housing record. With eviction filings in Connecticut on the rise, SB 36 comes at an opportune time to provide women like Bridget legal recourse to prevent an eviction.
Importantly, the provisions in SB 36 alone would not fully mitigate the heightened risk of housing insecurity among survivors of domestic violence as lack of affordable housing is also a real challenge. For Bridget, even with assistance from a local shelter, finding an apartment was a monumental task: “I literally looked all over and couldn’t find an apartment that would take me, either the rents were too high, Section 8 wouldn’t take them, or you know, the eviction [record].” Low-income renters like Bridget find it difficult to find affordable housing in Connecticut as there is currently a shortage of 85,403 affordable units.
SB 211 seeks to address this issue by tackling deep-rooted inequities in land use. Connecticut is one of the most segregated states in the country with high levels of poverty in its cities and high concentrations of wealth in the surrounding suburbs. The few affordable housing units available are primarily located in disinvested urban neighborhoods. In conjunction with historic divestment practices like redlining, modern day exclusionary zoning policies continue to perpetuate segregation in Connecticut by keeping poor urban residents like Bridget out of wealthier suburbs.
Through a number of legal strategies such as single residence occupancy laws and minimum lot size requirements, local governments have made it difficult to build affordable housing in high-opportunity neighborhoods, thereby deepening housing inequities and perpetuating the affordability crisis.
Senate Bill 211 is a step towards rectifying the injustice of residential segregation. If passed, this ‘fair share’ law would require Connecticut towns to have a certain number of affordable units based on the needs of the region and the town’s median income compared to other towns. Advocates propose that if affluent towns share the responsibility for affordable housing by building more multi-family units, Connecticut would not only take steps towards desegregation, but also see needed economic growth. This legislation is exactly the kind of ‘ladder’ to economic opportunity Bridget and women like her need to build a safer future for their families.
As a researcher, I’ve spent countless hours speaking with women facing housing insecurity, most of whom are survivors of domestic violence. Housing protections and fair share practices are necessary steps toward improving housing access for survivors and their children. It is time that Connecticut moves away from its history of segregation and provides access to safe and affordable housing for all families.
Patricia Lewis is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Health Sciences Department at Sacred Heart University. She is a member of the Connecticut chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network.