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The ‘A’ in Affordable Housing Also Stands for ‘Absolutely Indispensable.’

The ‘A’ in Affordable Housing Also Stands for ‘Absolutely Indispensable.’

A recent two-part series in the Hartford Courant branded Connecticut, “a state with more separate — and unequal — housing than nearly everywhere else in the country.”

Data from the Partnership for Strong Communities confirms this, showing that 50 percent of renters and 32 percent of homeowners spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing, with little left to cover other necessities.

That adds up to nearly 500,000 households with a crying need for an affordable place to live.

Liberty Bank Foundation grantee Local Initiatives Support Corporation has been working to do just that over the last 20 years. Rather than a hands-on builder, LISC is a builder of partnerships and deals that will get the ball rolling, a builder of capabilities for developers that will put hammer to wood, and a builder of trust and understanding in local communities.

Started in 1979 by the Ford Foundation, LISC was envisioned as an “intermediary” – a nonprofit that could connect hard-to-tap public and private resources and capital with underinvested places and people. LISC provides financing (loans, grants, and equity) and technical and management assistance for local partners and developers. Since 1979, LISC has invested $20 billion nationwide.

Right now LISC’s partners have over 600 units of affordable housing projects underway in the state. And with LISC’s support, community developers have already created 577 units that low- to moderate-income families can afford.

Some towns saw the need for affordable housing and have already built it. And not just Hartford and New Haven, but places that might surprise you … like Litchfield, Old Saybrook and Kent. Residents of other towns worry that affordable housing will detract from the New Englandy atmosphere, a tradition of single-family homes, or worse. But, will it?

So what does affordable housing look like? Go to the LISC website and be impressed by housing carefully designed to complement local structures. One affordable housing executive director notes that Marshall Commons of Stamford compared favorably with market-rate housing also being built. “We made a point of ensuring ours was equal in quality,” she says.

Who occupies affordable housing? Residents are, to name a few: retirees, active military, a disabled person who works from home, a person who needs easy building access, a husband and wife who run a nonprofit, the executive director of a community developer, and a parent working towards a degree and a better job.

One resident found a job onsite, serving as the complex superintendent. Another needed housing so she could deal with a child’s all-consuming medical issues.

A tenant who probably never expected to need affordable housing says, “It’s important to dispel myths, stereotypes and preconceptions about people in need. I was grateful to have Ferry Crossing [in Old Saybrook] to help me get back on my feet. Finding affordable housing gave us a stable platform to build our future.”

What do tenants want out of affordable housing? Exactly what anyone else is looking for: a safe place for children to play, a nearby park, a backyard, proximity to shopping and transportation, community fellowship, peace and quiet, and just a plain old good night’s sleep.

Here’s what some of LISC’s partners and their residents have to say:

  • “We knew we could have a positive impact on an entire city block. After renovation they leased up right away with a nice mix of tenants.”
  • “The community is tranquil with lots of trees. Everyone watches out for each other.”
  • “This apartment gave me a new lease on life with flat, open space, an accessible bathroom and an entrance ramp.”
  • “I’ve been in my job for 25 years and work with the public, so I can’t bring a negative attitude to work. I really love my view of the city at night.”
  • “We need some way to bring younger families into the community to maintain vitality and population growth.”
  • “This wasn’t just about development, but also about education and advocacy. It opened people’s eyes to the need.”

Please join us in thanking LISC for the vital work they do. Creating affordable housing in Connecticut is certainly complex, but it fulfills the simplest of wishes … a safe place to live that won’t break the bank.