We need to force suburbs to house more of the poor — and also enlist them in a joint effort to cut our municipal costs.
New Haven State Rep. Roland Lemar delivered that message about the current challenges facing Connecticut’s urban-suburban relationship during a reelection fundraiser and meet-and-greet.
Actually, Wednesday evening’s event was more of a “meet-and-greet-and-eat,” an issues discussion accented with a steady stream of fresh pies at Brick Oven Pizza, which has become a popular spot for politicians to hold campaign events. Kadir Catalbasoglu, who owns the business, is the father of Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu, who’s also serving as treasurer of Democrat Lemar’s campaign for a fifth two-year term.
Lemar faces a challenge this November from Republican Eric Mastroianni (pictured) for the 96th General Assembly District, which includes New Haven’s East Rock and Wooster Square neighborhoods along with part of East Haven. (Click here for more on Mastroianni’s campaign, which had begun as a quest for the gubernatorial nomination.) Both candidates are seeking to raise $5,100 in small donations to qualify for $28,000 in matching dollars under Connecticut’s public-financing system.
As the sky outside broke into a thunderous storm, Lemar and the 20 supporters assembled at Brick Oven settled in for a question-and-answer session. Stephen Poland (pictured), who teaches modern Japanese literature at Yale and is active in East Rock politics, asked Lemar about how New Haven is managing growth. Lemar praised New Haven for pursuing “inclusive growth,” often requiring at least 20 percent of the units at new apartment complexes to have “affordable” rents.
Then he tore into the suburbs for using racially-motivated “zoning as a tool to segregate communities.” He said he wanted to “name names: Places like Milford have gone out of their way in the last few years to deny housing oportunities for victims of domestic violence,” lower-income families and homeless people. “These quaint little communities have done everything they can to keep people out,” he said.
Some suburban communities “lose their mind” if a developer seeks to add even a little affordable housing in a project, he said.
Among those listening was Anika Singh Lemar (pictured), a Yale-based attorney (and Lemar’s wife) currently taking on Branford on that very issue. (Read about that here.) Rep. Lemar called for the state to require all communities to insist on at least 20 percent of new housing developments over more than 10 units to be “affordable,” which is reserved for families earning 80 percent of the area median income (AMI). That’s still around $70,480 per year out of an $88,100 annual benchmark for a family of four.
Even that AMI figure is skewed because it includes wealthy suburbs, Lemar continued. He said some of the 20 percent of the reserved units should be “deeply affordable,” meaning people earning 30 percent of the AMI can rent them.
Yury Maciel-Andrews (pictured), a business manager for a local nonprofit, commended Lemar for the “deeply” adverb.
“Even when we talk about affordable housing, even ‘affordable housing’ in New Haven is truly not affordable,” she said. “I do feel people are being pushed out.” Rising rents pushed Maciel-Andrews, a single mom with two kids, out of East Rock. She got lucky and found a downtown two-bedroom for $1,300 a month, an increasingly elusive find.
Lemar, the legislature’s Planning & Development Committee co-chair, also proposed reforming “antiquated” suburban zoning laws and withholding discretionary state aid to towns that fail to comply.
Lemar asked the room a question: “If you had to guess how many school districts we have in Connecticut, would anyone like to proffer a guess?’’
Hamden Councilman Justin Farmer (pictured) proffered the answer: 151. Those districts combined have fewer students than some big cities serve with a single superintendent and a single science curriculum coordinator, Lemar continued. He said Connecticut cities and towns could save “millions” by forming consolidated regional school districts, 911 call centers (the state has 104 different ones), and IT departments.
Asked why Democrats have failed to promote that regionalization, Lemar responded that suburban legislators who dominate the legislature have stopped them. But he argued that attitudes are changing, especially in inner-ring suburbs like West Haven and Hamden, which have mill rates higher than New Haven’s.
“We can fix these problems. There are suburban legislators who get it. That wasn’t always the case,” Lemar said. He singled out his State Rep. Robyn Porter (pictured), who represents portions of both New Haven and Hamden, and Hamden State Reps. Mike D’Agostino and Josh Elliott as supporters of regional initiatives at the Capitol.
Yale history professor Paul Sabin (pictured) asked how Democrats are responding to nationwide Republican “assault on voting rights.” Connecticut Democrats are mostly playing defense, Lemar responded, so far successfully, against Republican efforts here to, for instance, require photo IDs at the polls. He and other Democrats support a proposal to restore voting rights to people on parole, which failed this past session.
Click on the video to watch the full discussion at Brick Oven Pizza.
The great thing is, for those wanting to support either candidate, anyone anywhere in New Haven or East Haven who makes a donation of $5 or more will count toward the 150 local folks that the candidates need to qualify for CEP funding. You don’t have to actually live in the district, just in a town that is part of the district to count as an “in-district” contributor.
posted by: alex on August 9, 2018 5:26pm
I’m proud to have Roland as my representative. He’s smart and works hard for us.
posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 9, 2018 5:45pm
What is the difference between a con artist and a politician? none…both are deceivers.
Politics have no relation to morals. Niccolo Machiavelli.
One who deceives will always find those who allow themselves to be deceived. Niccolo Machiavelli.
posted by: Esbey on August 9, 2018 5:48pm
It is fine to point out that the suburbs aren’t carrying their burden, but they control the legislature and they aren’t going to start housing poor people. That is the purpose of “suburbs” and “zoning”: to exclude. Ain’t gonna change.
I think we should make a more politically feasible ask to our suburban (ahem) friends who run the state: please at least get out of our way. Let us expand Tweed, build a train station garage, install red light and speeding cameras and put safe speed limits on through streets in residential areas. When funding projects like the Orange Street extension across the highway, stop trying to micro-manage local development from afar (no, we do not actually need a “4.5 star” hotel.)
With existing levels of funding support, we will then go on housing and educating so many of the state’s poorer folks while also housing and supporting many of the state’s most productive minds. You in the suburbs can then go on with your lily-white boring upper-class lives. But at least give us the things that don’t cost you additional money; is it really that much to ask?
Or course, we also have to get out of our own way and stop letting the union that controls our city government play hold-up games with housing, jobs and taxes. We have to be willing to accept the things that will help us.
posted by: THREEFIFTHS on August 9, 2018 6:13pm
My bad I forgot.
Taken Bets.When Slick Looney steps down.Slick Lemar will take his place.
posted by: NHPLEB on August 9, 2018 7:13pm
ESBEY- while you made some good points, I think you cross the line with “lily-white boring upper class lives”. You can’t judge what makes people happy— are safe streets, clean towns, good schools “boring” to you? Perhaps that is why so many would kill to suffer from that kind of boredom.
You come across as quite biased and what you say is offensive. This does overshadow your other ideas so I ask that you tone it down so your message doesn’t get lost in your prejudiced ranting.
Lemar: what exactly has he done that is so wonderful for his district? Every election season , we hear of how great all these folks are. Did all the spending errors, tax hikes, foolish spending get done by some other legislators?!?!? These are the folks who gave us what we have today.
Where does Mr. Lemar live? LMK when he moves into a complex with 20% poor folks. And let me know when Teddy Kennedy’s kids go to public school with the rest of us.
posted by: 1644 on August 9, 2018 9:32pm
Suburbs boring? Obviously you missed the Orange Volunteer Firemen’s Carnival, or the Guilford Craft Show, or the Guilford Fair, or Shakespeare on the Guilford Green, or the weekly Branford Jazz Festival, the the thrill of seeing who grew the best pumpkin at the Durham Fair! We do have a crime wave of car burglaries and thefts, thanks to the Democrats’ soft on crime lot ‘em loose policies, but at least I am not lulled to sleep by the sound of nightly gunfire as I was when I lived on George Street between Dwight and Day.
posted by: Noteworthy on August 9, 2018 9:45pm
Let Me Remind You Notes:
1. What Lemar and Porter really are doing here is creating divisiveness and an evil target in order to justify their reelection by painting themselves as champions of the poor and the downtrodden - the poor citizens of New Haven and other urban centers.
2. Do you really think the poor, who need lots of social service support, access to public transportation and subsidized healthcare are going to move to Milford or somewhere out on the shoreline just because they have “affordable” rent? That’s the only way to “make them pay” their fair share?
3. The suburbs across this state get almost nothing for education support; pay the vast majority of income taxes and by the way, also contribute the most to the non-profits.
4. Those terrible suburban people also pay half the cost of New Haven’s annual operating costs, are paying the majority of the cost of bailing out Hartford - will soon have to bail out New Haven. Then there is the nearly $2 billion in school construction - those horrible residents are funding the majority of that bill, along with a disproportionate share of the multi-million dollar rehab of the Hill High School track and football field.
5. Those people also visit the Shubert, eat at our restaurants. It was a suburban woman who kicked off the fundraising for the new NICU at Yale New Haven Hospital with a multi-million dollar gift. That NICU serves the babies of New Haven - many of whom are black and brown.
6. At some point, one has to appreciate the incomes and towns where the suburban people live and what they bring to the table. Denigrating them for political gain is disgusting.
7. If Lemar, Porter et al from urban areas would focus on actually doing something productive instead of demonizing and dividing - they might actually have something on which to run.
posted by: 1644 on August 9, 2018 10:06pm
NHPLEB: The assessor’s record show Lemar owns nothing, but his lawyer wife owns a nice single family brownstone in Wooster Square (on Chapel), and a 2 family on Eld St. I wonder if her rental units are lead free. Or if she rents at affordable rates.
posted by: JCFremont on August 10, 2018 7:38am
If we had a strong mayor who negotiates from strength we can get fully funded Pilot. Maybe some good old extortion might help. If you don’t fund the poor they will move into your towns, just point at Hamden, maybe that will loosen up some wallets. BTW might it be better to identify Justin Farmer in the individual picture (4th down) than in the picture with two other people I’m assuming Justin is the one in the black shirt with a beard.
posted by: 1644 on August 10, 2018 9:13am
JCF: Increased PILOT dollars are not going to come from the state, because the state doesn’t have them. Debt service and pension payments are swallowing about half the state budget. Included in the other half are welfare programs like the medicare co-payments for the 100K elderly that both Malloy and nearly all Democrats and Republicans voted for, reversing a medicaid expansion that happened early under Malloy. Plus, Democrats like Looney think UConn and its number 18 ranking are sacred, so we cannot cut there. Those students need their climbing walls.
posted by: JCFremont on August 10, 2018 9:14am
I correct myself before I get battered here. Justin Farmer I found out is the man in the glasses and wearing a head set. I again assumed that a candidate who is at a public forum would be wearing headsets. I did my do dilegent and read he has a nuorological problem. I originally thought he might be a reporter taking audio notes. Sorry I did not “assume” the Hamden alder would be white, but since it was this was the second picture of the man in the beard and he was the one speaking figuring he was the one that was proffering the answer. New Rule: Check first comment second.
posted by: Esbey on August 10, 2018 12:18pm
@NHPLEB, your critique of my tone is correct, sorry.
I get upset when I think about the exclusionary practices that are a near-universal feature of suburban politics, and when I think about the burden that places on city residents. But your point is still correct.
posted by: Wooster Squared on August 10, 2018 1:11pm
Regionalization is not going to happen while the city is being run the way it is. The city is willfully bankrupting itself through continued fiscal mismanagement. Add to that the dumpster fire known as a the school lottery, and you don’t have a very compelling case. It’s not that the suburbs are attracting young families, it’s that New Haven is doing its level best to repel them.
I left New Haven for the burbs after over a decade there because I wasn’t going to put my kids into a school system where some byzantine process akin to the Harry Potter hat decides their fate, while the mayor and alders lead the city into a prolonged fiscal crisis because they don’t understand how bonds work and care more about the unions than the voters.
What’s frustrating about all of this is that New Haven has the potential to be a great city if it were run better.
posted by: New Haven Taxpayer on August 10, 2018 10:25pm
@NOTEWORTHY What has Roland accomplished? Really? How about Chicken Coops!