To the Editor:
As a Greenwich native and the Deputy Director of DesegregateCT, I have spent the better part of two years working with the group to advocate for much-needed zoning reform in Connecticut. Opponents of our work know they are wrong on the facts, so in recent weeks they have resorted to spreading ad hominem attacks and conspiracy theories about our motives and the alleged “corporate interests” behind the group. I am writing here to set the record straight so that we can get the focus back on what matters: the lack of housing options in Connecticut.
DesegregateCT was founded in June 2020 following George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing protests against racial injustice. In Connecticut, one of the most insidious forms of racial injustice is housing segregation, which is driven in large part by the state’s highly restrictive zoning rules. Motivated to change this status quo, I and a few others (mostly students) volunteered to join the group’s founder, Sara Bronin, to get the movement off the ground. Since then, the group has relied mostly on motivated volunteers to meet with legislators, engage with community groups, conduct research, write reports, host events, and do anything else we can think of to educate people about zoning and advocate for better land use laws.
For most of its existence, DesegregateCT has operated with a shoestring budget and no organizational infrastructure. Just last month, though, we formally became a program of Regional Plan Association – a century-old non-profit with a distinguished legacy of research and advocacy work in Connecticut and throughout the tri-state region. DesegregateCT maintains an independent budget, which has been funded entirely by philanthropic grants and individual donations. Thanks to the team’s efforts, the group just hired one full-time and one part-time employee on very modest salaries: not exactly the “expansive and well-funded website, large staff and lobbyists” alleged by our detractors. Indeed, our “well-funded” website was designed and maintained by Sara Bronin, who has never been paid for the thousands of hours she dedicated to the group. I suppose the gargantuan depiction of our small organization is a compliment to the incredible work of our dedicated team.
Our opponents’ desperate attempts to link our group to various bogeymen lack any factual basis. Not a cent of the money we’ve raised for DesegregateCT has come from developers – period. The idea that our dedicated team got into housing advocacy for the money is plainly ludicrous. I have spent countless hours working on behalf of DesegregateCT, time I could have spent on more lucrative pursuits. Instead, I chose to fight to make the community I love more welcoming and accessible by reforming its exclusionary housing policies.
The only people in this debate with a financial conflict of interest are a few wealthy homeowners – like our opponents – who have a vested interest in starving our state of supply so that their property values will continue to skyrocket.
While DesegregateCT’s critics are focusing on scare tactics, our small team is focused on the facts. We’ve conducted research and published reports on the benefits of and obstacles blocking transit-oriented communities; the need for minimum lot size reform; the environmental case for zoning reform; and the economic imperative of zoning reform. We’ve hosted a range of informative events on zoning topics. We’ve assembled the Zoning Atlas, a first-in-the-nation interactive map showing how all 2,620 zoning districts and 2 subdivision districts in Connecticut treat housing. Regardless of your political orientation or thoughts on housing policy, I implore you to look at these resources to learn more about zoning in our state.
Since our founding, DesegregateCT has welcomed robust debate and feedback about its proposals. Indeed, those proposals are the product of a consensus-driven process, in which our 80-member coalition comes together to determine the group’s legislative agenda. That process makes our proposals stronger by bringing everyone to the table to figure out what policies can actually work to make Connecticut more inclusive, prosperous, and sustainable. What has no place in this debate are baseless falsehoods about our group that are rooted in fear and untethered to reality or common sense.
Our statewide movement of 80 organizations and thousands of individuals is calling out for reform. Dismissing us as the tools of “corporate interests” is not just wrong on the facts, not just plainly absurd, not just a fearmongering distraction. It is an affront to the advocates – young and old; Black and White; left, right, and center – who have elevated this crucial issue and who have made an inarguable case that zoning reform in Connecticut is long overdue.
Drop the absurd conspiracy theories and focus on the facts.
Abbott is deputy director of DesegregateCT