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Eastern partnering on new affordable housing initiative

Published on March 21, 2023

Eastern partnering on new affordable housing initiative

house imageA new center devoted to improving housing affordability in eastern Connecticut will soon open as part of a partnership that includes Eastern Connecticut State University as a founding member.

The Center for Housing Equity & Opportunity (CHEO) in Eastern Connecticut will work with housing specialists, residents, municipalities and policymakers throughout Windham, New London and part of Tolland counties to find the resources to provide affordable housing.

“Eastern Connecticut State University is excited to partner on this initiative,” said President Elsa Núñez. “Housing affordability is a foundational issue for our students and our staff, and we look forward to collaborating with partners throughout the region to identify and implement solutions that make a difference for the larger university community and for eastern Connecticut.”

This will be the third CHEO in Connecticut but the first in the eastern region. The others are in Litchfield and Fairfield. The eastern Connecticut office will be headed by director Beth Sabilia of Waterford, an attorney and former mayor of New London. The office location has not yet been determined, but Sabilia starts as director on March 27.

LaMar E. Coleman, Eastern vice president for equity and diversity, represents Eastern on the CHEO steering committee. The founding partners were brought together by the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut.

The impetus for the new center “came from this whole notion of examining the housing crisis in the state of Connecticut,” Coleman said, and because eastern Connecticut lacked a CHEO. Eastern’s role as a partner will be to have “a seat at the table to brainstorm and advocate” he said, and to “help determine solutions to the problem.”

Eastern will leverage its academic resources and its relationships with stakeholders in the region, such as housing authorities, municipal officials and the Windham NAACP, to work on housing, he said.

Paid internships for students are possible at the CHEO office, once it is established, and the partnership may involve any faculty who do research on housing. The other academic institution that is a founding partner in the CHEO is Connecticut College.

Part of the CHEO’s work will be to provide more regional research and data collection and analysis that can be used in improving housing practices and policies and to advocate for resources at the local, regional and state levels.

“This is an issue that perhaps is under the radar until you look at the data and trends, and then it’s eye opening,” Coleman said.

A study done by the Urban Institute in 2021 showed that Connecticut is short 86,000 homes for those making 30% or less than the median income. It showed that in Windham County, there are about 900 more very low-income households than units of housing that they can afford. Housing accessible to the disabled is also in short supply, and the need is projected to grow 26% by 2035.

Eastern Connecticut faces challenges as a rural region where little affordable housing exists, said Jennifer O’Brien, program director at the Community Foundation. Increasing affordable housing does not necessarily mean building an apartment building, she noted.

“There are some interesting models we’ll look at,” she said. Litchfield, which formed a CHEO just last year and is largely rural, will be a good model for eastern Connecticut, she added.

 Other partners in the CHEO in Eastern Connecticut are the United Way of Southeastern Connecticut, the Partnership for Strong Communities, the Regional Planning Association and the Housing Collective.

Written by Lucinda Weiss