The challenge: Open communities
Connecticut and the country are going through a demographic shift. By 2042, the U.S. will be majority-minority. The population of color in Connecticut has grown from 12 percent in 1980 to 29 percent in 2010, and if it were not for this increase, the state would have negative population growth. Diversity is Connecticut’s future, including the future of its economy.
Connecticut also has significant disparities by race and ethnicity in health, educational achievement and incarceration rates, among other measures. Blacks and Latinos earn about half of what Whites earn. We are one of the most racially segregated states in the country. Yet we are also a state rich in resources. To promote social justice and economic prosperity, Connecticut’s challenge is to ensure that our growing population of color – our workforce of the future – has access to the building blocks for success in life.
A growing body of research demonstrates that where we live affects the opportunities we have in our lives – where our children attend school, whether our neighborhood is healthy and safe, whether we have access to social networks that lead to jobs. Due to de facto housing segregation, 81 percent of Blacks and 79 percent of Latinos in Connecticut live in lower opportunity neighborhoods, as compared with 25 percent of Whites. The future workforce of our state is being denied the resources and opportunities needed to thrive.
There are many historical reasons for these disparities, but there are also simple ways we can reduce them. Current government policies, such as placing family subsidized housing disproportionately in opportunity-isolated areas and exclusionary zoning practices, perpetuate the problem.
A forthcoming state report finds that 75 percent of the subsidized housing for families in Connecticut is located in the 6 percent of the state that is disproportionately minority (30 percent minority or greater). And 138 out of 169 Connecticut towns have housing stock that is less than 10 percent affordable for those earning 80 percent of median income or less.
Another study found that Connecticut zoning is the most exclusionary in the country and isolates low-income children from successful schools. New research shows that creating options for low-income children to live and attend school in mixed-income areas is the most cost-effective way to cut the achievement gap – more effective than just increasing funding for overwhelmed schools in areas of highly concentrated poverty (although we must also do that). Yet other research finds no negative impact from placing affordable housing in areas that are not poverty concentrated.
Several basic steps will reduce segregation and address these inequities. The state should:
(1) Reward towns that are taking on their fair share of affordable housing with increased state support;
(2) Allocate a substantial portion of housing subsidies to higher opportunity areas;
(3) Monitor local zoning to ensure that every town allows affordable and multifamily housing, as is required by state law;
(4) Support programs that affirmatively further fair housing, such as those that educate renters and housing providers about fair housing laws.
In addition, majority-White communities should organize to create attractive mixed-income housing that includes an affordable component.
For Connecticut’s future prosperity, we must continue making strategic investments in our cities, but we must also actively take steps to ensure that all Connecticut towns can be home to Connecticut’s population of the future.
Erin Boggs, Esq., is the executive director of a new Hartford-based statewide civil rights nonprofit called the Open Communities Alliance, which supports an urban-suburban inter-racial coalition to advocate for housing integration.