Saud Anwar

State Senator

Saud Anwar

Deputy President Pro Tempore

Working For You

February 17, 2021

Senator Anwar Joins Stakeholders, Calls for ‘The Right to Housing’

This afternoon, State Senator Saud Anwar (D-South Windsor) joined stakeholders from the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness, the ACLU and local charities helping the homeless, among others, to call for the passage of legislation affirming the “Right to Housing.” Legislation regarding the prospect, which would overhaul current housing practices to not only assist the nearly 3,000 homeless individuals in Connecticut but more than 100,000 renters struggling to afford rent, has been introduced to the General Assembly as Senate Bill 194, “An Act To Establish The Right To Housing.” Initially proposed in winter 2020 before the first domestic outbreaks of COVID-19, this legislation is only more pressing due to the ripple effects caused by the resultant pandemic.

“Everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and decency,” said Sen. Anwar. “The push to make housing a right in Connecticut comes from loving thy neighbor, not only the one next to your home but the ones in your community who may not have a home. It is also about the need to invest in our workforce, because prevention is better than cure. The state has done a good job historically in preventing homelessness and addressing housing challenges, but more can always be done. Our pre-pandemic strengths have helped many during the pandemic itself, but if we build on the strength, we can further bolster our resources.

It’s not just about how we treat the most vulnerable but the most in need. If you were living on the street with nowhere to go, how would you find your way out? How will you get a job without a physical address, or access health care? Everything we do is limited without an address. Struggles with mental health or substance use only worsen the problem of homelessness, as do societal pressures. If you’re fleeing domestic violence, where do you go? Too many struggle with these questions. Many must cycle in and out of emergency departments, prisons, mental health institutions and other programs, costing tens of thousands; treating them saves the state as well as improves their lives. We cannot just look at homelessness but the many people barely surviving, close to losing homes. We need to address evictions and prevent them. The pathways to homelessness are known; if we respond to each of them with a way forward, we strengthen our state.”

“When you get down to it, society has failed individuals struggling with housing insecurity,” said Tiernan Cabot, the founder of Hartford regional charity Hartford Bags of Love, which aids homeless people in the Hartford region. “Whether it’s not having a plan in place for people looking to get back on their feet, not giving the help they need for mental health and other issues or outright denying the issue and looking the other way. While numbers of homeless have declined in recent years, we need to do more. The important part of this bill is it doesn’t just seek to end homelessness but prevent it in the future.”

“I’ve lived through homelessness, the shame of not having somewhere to live, the shame of being made to feel ‘less than’ because I didn’t have what people should have,” said Myra Smith, neighborhood services advocate for Christian Community Action.. “Having a discussion about housing is like having a conversation on breathing. It is something that is given in life. Housing is needed, it is not optional. It should be guaranteed and simplified, something that comes along with life. Your body needs somewhere to reside, to take care of family; once you fall into homelessness, it becomes mental bondage. I kept repeating the cycle because I could not get out of the bondage in my mind. I’ve been stable for a decade now, but it took until the age of 30 to get stable, and I still battle with my mind sometimes. That is something people who do not have stable housing face all the time. You can meet basic needs, but what are we doing to make sure this is permanent?”

“While the right is recognized moreso at an international level, the ‘Right to Housing’ has domestic origins,” said Eric Tars of the National Homelessness Law Center, noting President Franklin D. Roosevelt advocated for housing support in the 1930s, one of the many ideas that influenced his “second Bill of Rights.” While resulting housing programs benefitted many, they left out Black and Brown people, Tars said, leading to inequity we still see today.

“Just 100 years ago, there was no temporary assistance for needy families. Before federal welfare was created, states led the way,” said Matthew Morgan, executive director of support charity Journey Home, who noted states initially created unemployment insurance, medical benefit programs and other efforts. It was only then “people realized you could become homeless due to reasons out of their control. We have to create, here in Connecticut, the right to housing. We can create change by protecting the right to housing and could even forge a path for the federal government to follow.”

With nearly 3,000 Connecticut individuals considered homeless, 124,000 renters paying at least half their income to rent and more than 45,000 renters in the state at risk of eviction, the issue of housing insecurity must be addressed on terms of more than just ending homelessness. The stress of housing insecurity can contribute to declines in health, restrictions on employment, developmental issues in children and increased mortality, among others.

If the “Right to Housing,” legislation introduced to the Housing Committee by Sen. Anwar, it would establish a right to stable housing and fight housing loss, increase access to affordable housing and ensure housing meets residents’ basic needs. Among the many tools planned for adoption to help this are ending exclusionary zoning, funding homelessness response systems, providing counsel to individuals facing eviction or foreclosure and lessening the impact of past history on current housing access. The legislation could represent a significant step forward in how society views housing insecurity.