POWELL: Housing lawsuit distracts; and Osten's trivial pander

Published on Friday, 27 November 2020 20:41
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Many people want to get out of Hartford, just as many people already have gotten out, the city having lost a third of its population since 1950. The problem for the people who still want to get out is that many of the people who already have gotten out or have avoided the city don't want Hartford following them.

So another federal lawsuit has been filed. It accuses the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Hartford's Housing Authority of mistreating poor people who get federal housing vouchers, confining them to substandard apartments in what the lawsuit calls "low-opportunity" areas in the city instead of helping them move to "high-opportunity" areas.

Responsibility for this problem is widely shared. HUD fails to push low-income housing on the suburbs because they don't want it. Since it already has too many poor and dependent people, the city wants to attract self-supporting people instead. The suburbs have enacted zoning rules that hamper or forbid low-income housing, because the poor are a burden, using more in services than they pay in property taxes.

As a result poverty remains disastrously concentrated in Hartford and Connecticut's other cities, where its pathologies feed on themselves.

So state law should aggressively override the most exclusive zoning regulations. It is outrageous that 25 of Connecticut's 169 towns forbid apartments and 60 require single-family homes to be built on at least an acre, thereby excluding many self-supporting people.

But the bigger problem with housing remains poverty itself. For why should any town be happy about taking residents Hartford would be happy to lose? Every news report on people trying to escape bad housing in Hartford shows that most of them are unmarried, uneducated, and unskilled women unable to support their many fatherless and disadvantaged children, who come to school unprepared to learn and can't keep up. Such households create the very "low-opportunity" areas the lawsuit brought in their name complains about. If these households could support themselves, they could afford to escape to better housing on their own.

Zoning isn't the only government policy that creates "low-opportunity" areas. For welfare policy subsidizes and incentivizes antisocial behavior - childbearing outside marriage and child neglect. That is why social conditions have only been worsened by the trillions of dollars spent to alleviate poverty in the last half century.

That problem won't be solved by another lawsuit. Only courageous politics can solve it, and right now politics can't even acknowledge it.


What planet is state Sen. Cathy Osten living on? Last week Osten, a Democrat from Sprague, announced that she again will introduce legislation to require Connecticut's public schools to teach American Indian history.

In a normal time this might be a reasonable idea but Osten doesn't seem to notice that Connecticut is anything but normal these days. Schools are operating only nominally with little effectiveness amid the virus epidemic. Nearly two semesters of education already have been largely lost for many students and the next semester may be lost for them as well.

School performance in Connecticut was poor long before the epidemic, with most students not performing at grade level and most graduating from high school without ever mastering high school English and math.

While American Indian history should be part of more sophisticated history courses, it should wait for the basics of education, which are already much neglected. Amid the failure with the basics and the chaos of the epidemic, the last thing Connecticut's schools need is tinkering with the lesser details of curriculum. And amid the financial catastrophe descending on state government, the last thing the next session of the General Assembly needs is more trivia like Osten's legislation.

So why is Osten bothering with this? It's because her district includes the Indian casinos in Montville and Ledyard and because, to maintain their ethnicity-based privileges, the casinos need to keep reminding everyone that the tribes of old were abused by the European settlers, even though the casino operators themselves were never oppressed and never earned their privileges.

That is, while unprecedented turmoil convulses Connecticut, Osten still lives on Planet Pander.

Chris Powell is a columnist for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Columns, Editorials on Friday, 27 November 2020 20:41. Updated: Friday, 27 November 2020 20:44.