(HIGH) There were two positive developments on the local housing front last week: An announcement that the loan and grant package for the Spruce Ridge affordable housing complex in Pawcatuck had been completed with the addition of more than $10 million of “low income housing tax credit” financing, and a pledge of sweat equity and a $50,000 grant to South County Habitat for Humanity from the Westerly Hospital for half a duplex that Habitat built on Pierce Street in Westerly in 2005. The Pawcatuck project is the second half of an 86-unit housing development that is being built on South Broad Street by NeighborWorks New Horizons, a New Haven organization. It will provide much-needed rent relief to low- and moderate-income families, as well as so-called workforce housing for households with higher incomes. Habitat works on a smaller scale, serving 56 families in all of South County. Even if somewhat symbolic, the hospital’s effort is worthwhile and serves to underscore the interconnection of decent housing and healthy living. Obviously, much greater efforts are needed to increase and improve the housing stock in the region, especially in light of Electric Boat’s hiring surge. In that regard, every town needs to do its part.
(HIGH) It was enlightening, for the most part, to hear our local legislators’ comments on school safety and gun violence in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., massacre that has done so much to mobilize young people across the country. There were honest differences of opinion on matters such as arming teachers, and on the need for new laws. State Rep. Samuel Azzinaro, D-Westerly, an NRA member with a permit to carry a weapon, was perhaps most forthright in discussing the type of rifles used in many of the mass shootings: “The AR-15 is a military rifle. I don’t see any need for anyone to have one unless you’re in the military.” Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, said she didn’t believe the framers of the Constitution would have supported citizen ownership of such weapons, but said she could back their storage at gun clubs. Several lawmakers, including Rep. Justin Price, R-Richmond, emphasized the need to fully enforce the gun laws already on the books. All of the lawmakers stressed the need for improved school safety, but Rep. Blake Filippi, R-Block Island, added that “We don’t want to militarize our schools. There’s a fine balance.”
(LOW) We have never quite understood the mechanism by which the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes could “protect thousands of jobs at their existing casinos” by building a third Indian-owned casino in close proximity to the $950 million MGM Springfield resort casino that is now under construction. How would the smaller casino “protect” the jobs of workers at the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort Casino in southeastern Connecticut? Those casinos, which for awhile had a monopoly in New England and parts of other neighboring states, have already experienced booms, busts, and rebounds in their business and workforces. They have been successful in striving to diversify, and have become entertainment and shopping destinations that appeal to a wider section of the population. But would the employees of their gaming operations here truly be insulated by the opening of yet another casino to compete with MGM? This whole episode, with its Interior Department machinations, legislative intrigue, and legal battles, has been more than a little confusing. And now there are additional proposals for expanded gambling in Connecticut: sports betting, online lotteries, and opening the market to a commercial casino in the Bridgeport area. These ideas would seem desperate were it not for the fact that many other states are doing the same thing. So be it, but the social and economic side effects of gambling — which have yet to be comprehensively entered onto the state’s balance sheet — remain unchanged. Connecticut needs to get a better handle on its gambling problem, and stop betting on the possibility of another golden goose.