On January 16, a popular wedding venue in Seymour was home to a different type of event: the TEAM Housing Coalition Forum. Attended by more than 250 state and local officials, developers, faith leaders, nonprofit staff, housing advocates, and more, the forum explored the knotty issue of how to create more affordable housing in the lower Naugatuck Valley. All of the 12 towns served by TEAM were represented, and all but one by their chief elected officials. The Liberty Bank Foundation sponsored the event.
Lieutenant Governor Susan Byciewicz was on hand to kick off the morning, followed by an interactive online Q&A that tested the audience’s knowledge of common myths related to housing. Sue Murphy then moderated a panel of local leaders—Patrick Charmel, president and CEO of Griffin Health Services, Joseph DiBacco, Superintendent of Ansonia Public Schools, and Bill Purcell, president of the Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce—who provided perspectives on how the lack of affordable housing negatively impacts health, education, and local economies.
Next, a panel of senior state officials and municipal leaders provided examples of how communities have successfully created affordable housing that addresses their needs. Thomas Maziarz, Chief of the Bureau of Policy and Planning for the Connecticut Department of Transportation, emphasized the opportunities that will be generated by DOT’s plans to revitalize the Naugatuck Valley rail line. This theme was also picked up by Rick Dunne, executive director of the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments, who pointed out that the rail line runs through many downtown areas, offering the potential to invigorate town centers with mixed-use, mixed-income development. Municipal leaders Rob Simmons and Carl Fortuna described how affordable housing was incorporated into the towns of Stonington and Old Saybrook, respectively, through community education, coalition building, and leveraging of state, federal, and private resources.
The final section of the program featured an array of experts representing agencies that provide resources to support housing creation. These ranged from government agencies like HUD, CHFA, and the Connecticut Department of Housing, to financial entities like Capital for Change, Connecticut Green Bank, and the Housing Development Fund. Also on hand were an experienced for-profit developer, the blight director for the city of Hartford, the Connecticut Main Street Center, and the Beth-El Center. Representatives of these agencies offered a “lightning round” of 5-minute sound bites on the resources they could offer to support housing development in Valley towns.
Of course, the value of an event like this is chiefly in the activity that follows it. Participants were asked to fill out evaluation cards to let TEAM know what next steps they would like to take to address housing needs in their individual communities. Forty percent said they would like to be part of a group of residents and community leaders in their towns to discuss housing needs and how best to meet them over time! And several towns in the Naugatuck Valley have reached out to TEAM already to begin assessing and addressing their housing needs.
When they’re ready to start, Liberty Bank Foundation will be ready to help with our new Community Organizing Mini-Grants. Click here to read all about it!