On June 24th, twenty-one people gathered at the First Baptist Church in Essex to discern the ways in which we can support affordable housing here on the shoreline. Presenters included:
Ed Bonilla and Nora McNeil from Middlesex United Way
Sarah Bird and Amy Albert from Middlesex Habitat for Humanity
David Evangelisti, former board president of Middlesex Habitat for Humanity and member of St. John’s Episcopal Church
Dawn Parker from the Connection
Lauren Ashe from Hope Partnership
Rosemary Willis from Essex Housing Authority
Ed Bonilla emphasized the need for affordable housing by citing the high number of Asset Limited Income Constrained Employed (ALICE) individuals here on the Shoreline. Bonilla noted that when we talk about poverty we should include both those living under the official federal poverty line as well those who are ALICE. Below are the combined poverty & ALICE percentages for the Shoreline. Surprisingly places like Westbrook have similar percentages to Middletown , which reminds us that poverty is not just concentrated in urban areas but is found everywhere.
Chester, 26%; Clinton, 28%; Deep River, 26%; Essex, 20%; Middletown, 36%; Old Saybrook, 25%; Westbrook, 34%
Sarah Bird shared with the group immediate ways that people could get involved with Habitat for Humanity, volunteer for (1) their Brush with Kindness program, which helps with small projects to help people fix and upkeep their house, or volunteer to (2) the house building in Portland, which will kick off this fall.
Bird noted that Middlesex Habitat for Humanity has been focused on the northern part of the county but would like to do more in the southern part. To do that, they would need land for building houses as well as identify participants for the Brush with Kindness program.
Following Bird, Dawn Parker invited the group to think about increasing the number of affordable rentals in this area. Because of limits like sewage, larger affordable rental units cannot be built. Because funding sources are targeted to larger units, Parker & her organization the Connection have not been able to secure funding for rental builds here on the shoreline.
To increase affordable rental units, Parker points out, creative thinking is needed. Multi-family or accessory apartments paired with a revolving loan fund may be a possibility. HOPE Partnership, a Old Saybrook based non-profit, is beginning to open up and wrestle with these possibilities. Lauren Ashe, the Director of HOPE, shared that HOPE has already built some rental units and that they are currently in the process of discerning how they might build more.
How could the faith-based communities help to increase affordable rental units so that everyone in our communities might be able to have a decent place to live? How might we partner with and support the incredible work being done by the Connection and HOPE Partnership?
Lastly, Rosemary Willis from the Essex Housing Authority celebrated the $3 million grant they had received and the 25 units that will be going up right here in Essex for senior. Willis point out that many seniors are also Asset Limited Income Restrained and struggle to make ends meet, which is why they are increasing senior living in the area.
This conversation serves as a jumping off point for First Baptist Church and for the community: the need in our area around housing is palpable.