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Rob Simmons Affordable housing nurtures community

October 3, 2018

When people think of Stonington, they often think of our beautiful shorelines and harbors, quaint historic villages, fishing fleet, wonderful restaurants and tourist attractions like the Mystic Seaport, Aquarium and Olde Mystic Village.

We draw literally millions of visitors a year to a town of 18,000 residents in the villages of Mystic, Old Mystic, Pawcatuck and Stonington as well as the uplands of scenic farmlands.

People usually do not think of affordable housing when they think of Stonington, but we have it and we support it. In fact, we call it “Work Force Housing.” Our residents, business owners and municipal officials all understand you cannot have a thriving economy without a workforce that makes it succeed.

We know that a community can’t have boatyards without dockhands, mechanics and other skilled workers. We know you can’t have tourist attractions without historians, guides, maintenance workers and administrators. We know you can’t have restaurants without waiters, waitresses, cooks and hostesses.

We also know the people doing those vital jobs don’t always earn high salaries, and so finally, we know we need to have housing these workers can afford. And it is a blessing to have our workforce live among us whenever possible.

Across the state, over 200,000 households spend more than half of their income on housing, making access to affordable options one of our most critical issues at present. When outsized housing costs eat up a family’s budget, there’s little room left for discretionary spending at local restaurants, shops and service providers, and the entire economy suffers the loss in revenue and sales tax. At the same time, many young professionals on starting salaries simply cannot afford to build lives in the towns where they grew up, particularly when saddled with today’s skyrocketing higher education costs.

Stonington, where I am First Selectman, is thought of as a wealthy enclave because our shoreline properties are highly priced. True! However, as our next generation grows up and the cost of housing rises, we recognize that the housing trend is unsustainable if we want to keep, and attract, talented young families here.

We understand that our region’s quality of life and economy, including recreation, tourism and the service industry, require homes for everyone. But we also need to have options for retirees who want to downsize from their single-family homes and stay in the community they built. We want our fishermen, teachers and police officers have local housing options as well. We need to serve our working families.

Today, we are growing the affordable housing options in Stonington, including housing near our high school so children can walk to school and a converted historic factory on the Pawcatuck River with incredible views.

Working with our Planning and Zoning Commission and advocacy groups like the Partnership for Strong Communities to identify solutions, we have made affordable housing a priority because it is the best way forward for our community.

As we look toward the gubernatorial election in November, I want candidates to discuss affordable housing. An investment in affordable housing builds the housing stock, creates desirable, walkable communities for our millennials and seniors, and benefits the economies of our towns.

By creating more mixed-income, multi-family housing, we will help the state remain economically competitive and preserve the quality of life we value.

In Stonington, we found that hearings on affordable housing developments had great support from the community. The activity in Stonington was not revolutionary, it was evolutionary. We hope the next governor will continue this evolution across the state.

Rob Simmons, a Republican, was the representative from Connecticut’s Second Congressional district from 2001-2007.

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