For over 50 years of her life, registered nurse Lisa McKnight lived in New Haven, raising her children in her childhood home in the Hill neighborhood. Following her mother’s lead, McKnight’s daughter stayed in New Haven as an adult, living with her husband, children and other relatives. The daughter’s household once had four incomes to pay rent, but last week, the other working relatives living with her moved out.
“My first question to my daughter was, ‘Can you afford the rent?’ She answered me, ‘I don’t know, Mom. But I am going to do my best.’ That is not acceptable in this day or age,” McKnight said. “Affordable housing is a need.”
McKnight was one of many concerned residents who testified at the Joint Committee for Development and Legislation on Thursday night. The Committee met to hear the New Haven’s Affordable Housing Task Force present its official recommendations and final report, which were passed at the last Task Force meeting on Jan. 25. Task Force members emphasized four primary legislative goals they hope the Board of Alders will carry out — a permanent City Affordable Housing Commission, an increase in options and quality in affordable housing developments, zoning reforms to allow more affordable housing development and an improvement in the quality of current affordable housing options.
Representatives from the Youth Continuum — a nonprofit organization focused on housing homeless youths in New Haven — also promoted the need for affordable housing options for young adults. Elizabeth Larkin, an outreach case manager with Youth Continuum, testified along with four young adults closely involved with the organization.
“Access to affordable housing and homelessness are inextricably linked,” Larkin said. “This is not an abstract issue. Housing is a human right.”
Affordable Housing Task Force Chair and Ward 8 Alder Aaron Greenberg GRD ’19 opened the meeting in front of 40 community members. He cited various facts that condemn the state of affordable housing in New Haven, which Greenberg described as “an affordable housing crisis.” The Elm City’s eviction rate in 2016 was 4.05 percent, more than double the national average of approximately two percent. The task force measured that an affordable level of rent given the median income in New Haven is $750, but fewer than 22 percent of New Haven housing options are affordable — with the median New Haven rent falling around $1,000.
Livable City Initiative Executive Director Serena Neal-Sanjurjo followed, arguing that a permanent legislative body must be created to address affordable housing.
“There is no single legislative or administrative entity in the city that is responsible for monitoring, addressing and making recommendations about affordable housing,” Neal-Sanjurjo said. “Given the scope of the issue, New Haven needs an entity with the mandate to examine the impact of city, state and federal policy on one-going maintenance and creation of affordable housing in the city of New Haven.”
A commonly debated topic throughout the task force’s year-long existence surrounds zoning. In a January open letter to the Affordable Housing Task Force, the Room for All Coalition — which is made up of Mothers and Others for Justice, CT Bail Fund’s Housing Not Jails Collective, Y2Y, New Haven Legal Assistance Association and other activist groups — suggested that new zoning measures should force developers to designate below market rental rates for 10 to 20 percent of the housing units in a given housing development.
Edward Mattison LAW ’68, chair of the City Planning Commission and member of the task force, echoed the need for updated zoning laws that would encourage the development of affordable housing options.
“There are all sorts of ways, small and large, by which the zoning laws favor an outdated notion of what the city is now,” Mattison said. “We need to re-examine our zoning code.”
Otis Johnson Jr., the executive director of the Fair Rent Commission, lamented rent increases as high as $400 a month in recent years. Given that the Fair Rent Commission cannot act as an advocacy group, he suggested that community members band together to promote the task force’s recommendations.
Johnson said that he hopes more community members will create an affordable housing coalition to pressure the Board of Alders to implement the policy recommendations outlined in the report.
The Affordable Housing Task Force was created last spring to be temporary, and it will not meet after submitting its report to the Board of Alders on Thursday.
Nick Tabio | firstname.lastname@example.org