DEEP RIVER — At the front steps of Town Hall on Saturday about 75 people rallied in support of housing equity, zoning reform and S.B. 1024 — a housing and zoning bill that will likely advance to a vote in the General Assembly during the legislative session ending June 10.
Three groups — DesegregateCT, The Valley Stands Up, and March for Justice — co-hosted the “Rally for Housing Justice,” which included speakers who urged attendees to tell their state representatives and senators to support S.B. 1024.
“Legislative leadership must call this bill, we want for it to get a vote. We know there’s a lot of support for it. We cannot wait another year for this — this is a building block and first step,” Sara Bronin, founder and lead organizer of DesegregateCT, told the crowd.
State Rep. Christine Palm, D-Chester, urged the crowd to contact their state representatives and senators, as well as call friends in other towns, so that S.B. 1024 would come to a vote, unlike H.B. 6611, the “Fair Share” bill.
“That bill died in the Judiciary Committee, of which I am a member, for a shameful reason. One person who is a ranking member threatened to filibuster other bills for hours and hours,” Palm said. “The ‘inside baseball’ is that there are those forces that really don’t want a lot of bills to come to light and threatening to filibuster or talk them to death is a very good way to make sure that a lot of bills having to do with equity and justice never see the light of day.”
Palm said some legislators are afraid of taking controversial votes for fear of not getting reelected.
“I would much rather not get reelected and do the right thing and you need to reach the people who feel as I do and give them the support they need so that they will take the strong votes,” she said to a cheering crowd.
Also speaking was Maryam Elahi, the organizer of March for Justice, which started in Old Saybrook in June 2020 in reaction to the murder of George Floyd and now includes many towns across the shoreline.
“Our focus has been on trying to get towns to recognize that racism violates health equity and to work against that by adopting the resolution to work toward zoning reform, increasing affordable housing and recognizing that it’s important to be inclusive in our communities,” she said.
Jah Marley Wright, a Black Lives Matter activist who said he grew up in affordable housing in Colchester, told the crowd he supported the zoning changes in S.B. 1024.
“Ultimately conversations need to be backed by concrete actions to make towns more inclusive and open to all different kinds of people. Ultimately we need to desegregate Connecticut and that begins with how we use our land.”
Other speakers included Jim Crawford from HOPE Partnership, Angela Cahill, president of the American Institute of Architects Connecticut chapter, Alicia Dolce, executive director of the Connecticut Green Building Council, Evonne Klein, Interim CEO of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness and former Commissioner of Housing, and Faye Richardson, a volunteer with Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services.
After the speakers had finished, Linda Carlson, of Chester, said affordable housing was essential to keeping her family nearby. She said daughter lives in Chester and her son rents an accessory dwelling unit in Deep River.
“He’s fortunate to be in a lower income housing unit, but if it weren’t for that low rent, he wouldn’t be here. We wouldn’t be able to have the family connections that we have because he doesn’t have the kind of income that would support it,” she said. “The only reason that I’m able to live in Chester is I’m a senior citizen and I live in a USDA housing unit there. This is personal to me.”
Carleen Gerber, of Lyme, who is a member of the Lyme Affordable Housing Commission, said changes in zoning were “long overdue.”
“The important thing is to get a bill passed. They can come back the following year to do amendments and fine tuning,” she said.
Bill Belluzzi of Old Lyme said it was time to take action to level the playing field, including the passage of S.B. 1024.
“The bill may not be perfect but it pushes the needle in the right direction,” he said. “Towns are not doing their part. Left to their own devices, people want to keep the status quo.”