Show Me A Hero


Katy Shafer is a policy analyst at the Partnership for Strong Communities.

This month’s HBO miniseries, Show Me a Hero, chronicled the story of the creation of 200 low-income housing units in the affluent neighborhoods of the City of Yonkers, New York. The case, United States v. City of Yonkers was filed in 1980 and continued for 27 years. The mini-series describes the tumultuous administration of the then-youngest mayor of a major city, Nicholas Wasicsko, and how he endeavored to save the city from bankruptcy and construct affordable housing units in compliance with the federal court mandated desegregation remedy.
To say that the court’s order sparked backlash from the neighbors would be a gross understatement. Today, Westchester County continues to struggle with affordable housing creation as a component of its economic and community development strategy. Fears of home value depreciation, increased crime and negative effects on the school system, among a general perceived clash of cultures – sentiments heard decades ago are still heard in communities today, including in Connecticut. We’re left to wonder, how far have we moved past misplaced fears and unrealized stereotypes?
It’s important to recall a brief history of public housing and the governmental structures that fostered segregated communities nationwide. Beginning with segregated public housing developments originating with the New Deal, suburban growth was effectively federally subsidized by loan guarantees to builders to create low-cost homes with explicit segregation requirements. These are the origins of towns like Levittown on Long Island. Segregationist policies and practices continued into the modern day.
It’s no wonder that our patterns of development have yielded a fractured society: the disenfranchised are predominantly minority and concentrated in urban centers. Without the opportunity to buy homes in burgeoning suburbs in the 1950s, families were unable to tap into the steadily rising home value appreciation and equity that fueled so many to attend university, capitalize businesses, make other investments and enjoy future prosperity.
In Connecticut, the demand that fueled the single-home development boom from 1970 onward left the state without a means of entry into the majority of our communities. Today, 10% of the housing stock is affordable in just 31 of the state’s 169 municipalities, while high-priced single-family housing exclusively dominates the landscape of 114 towns.
For the over a decade, the HOMEConnecticut Campaign has worked with municipalities to support their efforts to proactively shift their housing landscape to provide housing options at a wider range of affordability levels. By leveraging strategic public investment, the Malloy administration is endeavoring to undo the governmental programs and practices that created the situation. Over 70 towns, from all across the state, are undertaking this challenge because their leaders understand that a healthy community needs all kinds of people and all kinds of people need all kinds of housing. 

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