A young girl and her mother, recently divorced from a New York City police officer, moved to a small town in Connecticut. The mother worked as an administrative assistant for what was then Union Carbide, which was relocating from New York to Connecticut. Moving away from the support of family and friends in order to provide for her family, the two relocated together.

The salary limited the options for where the two could live. While they were fortunate enough to find a safe and dignified place they could call home, it meant close to an hour commute for the mother. This impacted daily life in a variety of forms, from the challenges around before- and after-school care to limitations on time spent together. Participation in after-school activities was limited and only made possible thanks to the mother’s near superhuman ability to build an amazing network of new friends and community support systems around her daughter.

While there were many challenges faced, due to the fact there were no affordable, safe housing options closer to the location of employment, these two are some of the lucky ones.

There are so many people who face an array of challenges when looking for housing for themselves or their loved ones.

In Stonington alone, 34.8% of overall households and 46.6% of rental households are cost-burdened — spending more than 30% of their income on housing. And these numbers were calculated before the ongoing impact COVID is having on our housing market.

Current affordable-housing complexes in Stonington have wait lists that range from two months to two years. In a review of the rental market in the past few weeks alone, there were a max of six rentals in our town on the market for under $1,500.

This is a real problem and one that needs an array of tools to solve, from improving and protecting naturally occurring affordable housing to building new housing options.

The notion that the people who need affordable housing are less desirable as neighbors, or bring less value to a community, needs to be corrected.

These people we are talking about are our own friends, family and neighbors. They work in our daycares, our schools, our restaurants; they will fill our entry level jobs; they are our retirees living on a fixed income. They give back and contribute to our community in so many ways. And in my own case, grow up and become your first selectman.

I write this as I sit and look at my own children, who I hope will never have to know the struggle that my mother faced. And yet, I hope they will have compassion toward those who do need assistance; that they will understand life can take twists and turns and, in a moment, it could be any of us who will find themselves in need of support.

We often get swept up in the back and forth of debate, and it is all too easy to lose sight of the real issue before us.

Beyond the end result of the upcoming referendum, I hope the dialogue among all members of our Stonington community will strive to be respectful and remember there are people, including the children in our community, listening to the narrative taking shape. They should know they are welcome in our community; that Stonington is a place that values people of all income levels to enjoy and benefit from all our community has to offer.

The writer is the first selectman of the town of Stonington.

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