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The inaugural convening of the Center for Housing Equity and Opportunity in Eastern Connecticut (CHEO) brought more than 100 representatives from housing advocacy, nonprofit, community and anchor institutions to Connecticut College on March 16 to address the growing need for affordable housing in 42 towns.
A strategic partnership between Connecticut College, Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, Eastern Connecticut State University, the Housing Collective, Partnership for Strong Communities, Regional Plan Association, and United Way of Southeastern Connecticut, CHEO is working collectively with housing practitioners, municipalities and policymakers to preserve, protect and produce safe and affordable housing.
“We are here to fight for basic human rights—fair and affordable housing for all our friends and neighbors,” said Maryam Elahi, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut. “In one of the richest states in the world, it just doesn’t make sense for people to not be able to afford to rent or own a home in the community in which they work.”
In her opening remarks, Conn President Katherine Bergeron said she was thrilled to see so many people come together to address one of the region’s most critical public issues.
“I am proud that Conn is at the table. As an anchor institution in Eastern Connecticut, Connecticut College has a stake in the continuing vitality of this region, and that includes lending our energy and our expertise to the urgent issue of housing affordability,” she said.
“At Conn, we talk about ‘putting the liberal arts into action,’ and I’m so grateful that our College has the opportunity, with all of you, to advance this mission through the new Center for Housing Equity and Opportunity.”
The event also served as the formal introduction of attorney Beth Sabilia, a former New London mayor and Waterford selectperson, as CHEO’s inaugural director.
“My husband grew up in public housing. There were two adults in the household, four children, three fulltime jobs and no car. We understand the struggle of those lived experiences,” Sabilia said, adding that in New London County 46% of all households spend more than 30% of their income on housing and 2,820 households faced eviction in the last six months.
Sabilia said CHEO is focused on developing an inclusive and data-informed regional housing agenda, creating a strategy to drive production and preservation of affordable housing, and supporting a thriving region that provides equitable access and opportunity for all.
“Housing is foundational, and it is up to us to solve it in a collective fashion,” she said. “It didn’t happen in a vacuum, which means it can’t be solved in a vacuum.”