Karen Lin

Alex Guzhnay ’24 and Eli Sabin ’22, candidates for Board of Alders seats in Wards 1 and 7, respectively, hosted a town hall meeting Tuesday evening to discuss pressing local issues and to educate Yalies about New Haven.

The Board of Alders, the legislative body for New Haven, influences over $600 million of annual spending within the city. During the town hall, Guzhnay and Sabin outlined the most pressing issues New Haven faces, which include affordability, community safety and economic opportunity during COVID-19. To end the meeting, both candidates also urged Yale students to learn more about and get involved with local community and city politics.

“The reason we are hosting this townhall is that we want more Yale students to be engaged with the Board of Alders,” town hall moderator Matthew Meyers ’24 said. “Ward 1 consistently has the lowest voter turnout, and it also has the most Yale students.”

Housing Affordability

Both candidates said that rising housing prices in the city are making it difficult for renters to afford basic necessities.

“New Haven’s becoming more expensive,” Sabin said. “This has led to a housing shortage in the city.”

According to Guzhnay, part of the issue is New Haven’s restrictive zoning laws. He said that a potential solution would involve implementing an inclusionary zoning policy, which would require that a certain percentage of new developments have “affordable” units. The threshold of affordability would be determined by the city. Under the policy, which has already been discussed in Ward 1, developers would also receive subsidies from the city in exchange for building more affordable housing.

Guzhnay said that a recent law passed by the Board of Alders that promotes accessory dwelling units was a “key step” in creating more affordable housing in New Haven. Sabin had engaged in “a lot of advocacy” to make the law “stronger,” Guzhnay added. Accessory dwelling units are portions of homes rented out by homeowners, and proponents say increasing the number of them helps expand affordable housing.

Public Safety

The two alder-hopefuls also discussed public safety, as Guzhnay pointed out that “a lot of New Haven has seen an uptick in crime.” 2020 saw a total of 20 homicides and 121 assaults with weapons, a more than 50 percent increase compared to 2019. 

“New Haven has struggled with safety and violence for generations,” Sabin said. “The spike in violence over the past years has most impacted Black and Brown folks in lower-income communities.”

Sabin emphasized the importance of hiring more New Haveners as police officers. He said he wants to build more trust between New Haven communities and law enforcement and to invest in the New Haven Public Schools System and job training programs. 

Guzhnay said that increasing the number of the city’s social workers, fixing street lights and promoting community building would be his top priorities to improve the safety of New Haven. 

He added that the New Haven community needs to have a conversation about the role cops play within New Haven. 

“Police accountability is incredibly important,” Sabin agreed. “We’ve made some progress on that issue by creating this independent civilian oversight body for the police department. So if anybody files a complaint, the civilian review board can investigate and issue subpoenas to try to get to the bottom of what happened.”

However, the Civilian Review Board, one year out from its first meeting, is experiencing serious backlogs and logistical problems, the News reported.

The two candidates then discussed New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker’s recent proposal to increase policing, specifically with regard to beat cops.

Both noted that they were in favor of more beat cops, police officers who patrol the streets on foot or bicycle instead of cars. 

Sabin described the city of New Haven as doing a “pretty good job” in terms of resident-police relations. 

Economic recovery and COVID-19

Both candidates emphasized the importance of economic recovery during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Guzhnay cited concerns about helping the citizens of New Haven adjust to living in a world shaped by death and job loss due to COVID-19. Meanwhile, Sabin emphasized the importance of revitalizing the New Haven downtown after the public health situation improves. 

“We really need a denser core that provides more housing opportunities, and also creates more jobs for folks both in construction and also at local businesses,” Sabin said. He said he wants to amend the New Haven downtown zoning ordinances so that more apartments could be built, which would attract people who could contribute to the downtown economy. 

Guzhnay agreed that the New Haven downtown could be “denser,” but he wanted to hear from people and communities who might have concerns about downtown development. 

To end the meeting, both candidates turned their attention to the role that Yale students can play in New Haven politics by learning more about local issues and volunteering in the larger New Haven community. 

“Yale makes up New Haven, and New Haven makes up Yale.” Guzhnay said. “I think students are becoming increasingly aware of that fact.”

Board of Alders elections are Nov. 2, and Yale students can visit the University Registrar’s website for voter registration information. 

Alex Ye covers faculty and academics. He previously covered the endowment, finance and donations. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, he is a sophomore in Timothy Dwight majoring in applied mathematics.
Charlotte Hughes reports on climate and environmental issues in New Haven. Originally from Columbia, South Carolina, she is a freshman in Branford College majoring in English.