Local Experts Convened for a Panel Discussion on the Housing Affordability Crisis & a New Grant Opportunity for Northwest Connecticut was Announced
On September 22, 2023, over 200 people gathered for the panel discussion "Housing + Jobs + Conservation: A Plan for Action" at Salisbury Forum in Connecticut. This community event was presented by Salisbury Forum and Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation.
Steve Rosenberg moderated an in-depth and thought-provoking conversation with local experts Jocelyn Ayers, Gordon Ridgway, and Michael Polemis. Panelists addressed the rapidly decreasing affordability of housing and laid the groundwork for a collaborative process that merges the need for housing solutions, economic growth, and long-term commitments to conservation of the region’s natural beauty. Connecticut Department of Housing Commissioner Seila Mosquera-Bruno offered special remarks at the reception, and an exciting new grant opportunity was announced for organizations that serve nine towns in northwest Litchfield County.
“We recognize that our region has been grappling with the increasing difficulty community members face in finding housing, especially for those who work in local businesses, schools, and nonprofits. It is becoming more crucial than ever to support sustainable housing solutions that engage the diverse interests in our communities,” said Peter Taylor, President of Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation.
The panelists illustrated that housing, conservation, and jobs are interdependent issues, sometimes in surprising and unintended ways, and that it was time to look at new ways to leverage existing systems to address the need for more affordable housing.
As rents and median house prices continue to rise, increasing numbers of people are being excluded from affordable housing in the region. Ayers noted that 1,100 households on affordable housing waitlists in Litchfield County may wait 2-5 years, and 28% of Litchfield households say they are "cost-burdened" by housing costs. An unintended consequence of land conservation, Polemis noted, is that property values rise for land surrounding protected areas, "which means it's less affordable for people who have been living and working in any community."
Ayers mentioned that some benefits of affordable housing units are that they are typically sustainably built and energy-efficient, and are suited to take advantage of renewable energy systems like solar.
Ridgway noted that land trust's funding ability was "impressive," noting that the state forest comprises some 7,000 acres, and the land trust acquired about 2,000 acres. In contrast to that, Cornwall and its housing nonprofits own under 100 acres.
Polemis shared that it was time to have important conversations about "what we were protecting the land for--and more importantly, whom...the amount we actually need to make significant gains in housing is under 100 acres, so it's a very small percentage."
Participants and panelists had lively and informative discussions before and after the panel, and there is much optimism about the impact future collaborations will have on increasing affordable housing for the community.
Steve Rosenberg, co-convener of the Hudson Valley Affordable Housing & Conservation Strategy and formerly associated with Scenic Hudson, facilitated a discussion with three panelists who represent the multisector approach the forum seeks to highlight: Jocelyn Ayers, Director of the Litchfield County Center for Housing Opportunity; Michael Polemis, Chair of the Land Trust Alliance; and Gordon Ridgway, First Selectman of Cornwall, CT. The panelists shared their perspectives and experiences addressing housing affordability and conservation challenges, offering valuable insights to further community action.
The Foundation for Community Health (FCH), Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation (BTCF), and The Fund for the Northwest Corner have come together to support local efforts to create affordable housing opportunities in our region in partnership with the Litchfield County Center for Housing Opportunity (LC-CHO). At the event, a new grant program, "Create Housing Opportunity," was announced for organizations in the Northwest Corner of Connecticut, aimed at fostering multisector collaborations focused on housing. Broadly, this grant program aims to mobilize public support for new housing initiatives and move innovative projects from concept to reality.
About Salisbury Forum
The Salisbury Forum is a nonprofit organization in the Northwest Corner of Connecticut founded in 2005 whose vision is a world where knowledge and information can bring about positive change. Their mission is to foster deeper conversations and wider understanding on issues that affect our lives globally and locally by hosting speaker forums.