August 14, 2020

Letter to the Editor: An Open Letter to the Old Lyme Community … with Two Challenges

Editor’s Note: We published this letter July 22. We have received comments almost daily related to it — the publication date shown reflects the date of the most recent comment. PLEASE NOTE THAT AS OF JULY 31, 2020 COMMENTS ON THIS ARTICLE ARE NOW CLOSED.

To the Editor:

An Open Letter to the Old Lyme Community 

Several weeks ago a group of two or three hundred residents of Old Lyme marched from Town Hall to the First Congregational Church. On that day, people of varying political perspectives and social backgrounds joined together to give voice to the pain, indignation, and yes, hope, that meaningful change could be enacted to address the systemic racism that continues to plague our country. It was a heartening moment, one that was reenacted a week later in Lyme, thanks to the leadership of several thoughtful and passionate students from the Lyme-Old Lyme High School. Both events were the occasion for our community to acknowledge its limitations, even while articulating our broad aspirations, that toward which we hope and strive. 

Foremost among our limitations is the scarcity of people of color in our two towns, a fact made overwhelmingly clear by the rallies themselves. The faces gathered on the church lawn and on the ball field in Lyme were predominantly white. Foremost among our aspirations is the will to address that painful evidence of de facto segregation, and to make our town more welcoming and open to people of all races and backgrounds. To do that, we’ll have to ask, and hopefully answer, difficult questions about what makes our schools, our houses of worship, our public spaces, our town boards and committees, and yes, our housing, so overwhelmingly homogenous, so overwhelmingly white. 

Two years ago Old Lyme went through a series of public hearings about an affordable housing project that would have been built under the direction of HOPE Partnership. During those hearings, many residents voiced a variety of concerns about the location of that project, while also saying that they were broadly supportive of affordable housing – just not there. 

Now is the time to reopen that discussion. Now is the time to trust that what was spoken during those hearings, a broad affirmation of the need for affordable housing in Old Lyme (and Lyme), was actually the case. Now is the time to trust that the pain, outrage, and hope that brought so many of us together last month might actually translate into a meaningful gesture to address the de facto segregation of so many of Connecticut’s towns, including our own. Now is the time to come together as a community, and to finally construct the affordable housing that we so desperately need if we are to be the welcoming and open community we wish to be. 

In a recent conversation with HOPE Partnership, they shared that the organization expended over $100,000 as a result of costs incurred in Old Lyme two years ago. This included land deposits, architects fees, engineering fees, and legal fees. That loss has severely impaired their ability to continue their mission of building affordable housing along the Connecticut Shoreline – though it’s surely worth noting that Madison has recently approved a HOPE project, with another currently underway in Essex. Still, among the consequences of the Old Lyme incident is that HOPE has not been able to hire a new executive director after their previous director left. HOPE Partnership is one of the foremost agencies working to address the systemic inequities of our region, inequities that have profound implications for the racial injustices that have weighed heavily on our hearts over the last months. 

And so here are two challenges. First, can we in Old Lyme come together to collectively raise the $100,000 it will take to replenish the losses HOPE experienced two years ago, helping to restore their capacity to pursue their mission? Through the generosity of two anonymous sources, the First Congregational Church is able to seed that effort with $25,000. That’s a start, but the gap remains. Might some of the other organizations in town be willing to contribute to that effort? Might individuals, with contributions both large and small, be willing to help meet that goal? It would go a long way toward binding the wounds that still exist from two years ago. And it would be a meaningful way to address the systemic injustices that our nation is finally confronting. 

If you’re willing, you can contribute to HOPE Partnership at: 

HOPE Partnership Inc. 90 Main Street, Suite 105B Centerbrook, CT 06409 

We also understand that not everyone is in a position to help financially during this time, particularly because of COVID-19 and its aftershocks. Moral support is also deeply appreciated. You can show that in the form of a letter or short note to HOPE, which would go a long way toward encouraging those who have volunteered their time and labor to construct affordable homes in our region. 

The second challenge is this: we need to find a site where affordable housing can be built, and we need to get out of the way and allow the project to move forward. We are encouraged that the recently formed Old Lyme Affordable Housing Committee is working to identify sites in town that might be suitable, and we support those efforts. 

It won’t single-handedly solve the inequities and injustices that plague our country and our region. But it will create an opening, one that suggests that we’re listening, that we’re responding, and that we care. 

In hope … 

Sincerely,

Rev. Dr. Steven R. Jungkeit, Old Lyme.
Rev. Laura Fitzpatrick-Nager, Old Lyme.
Rev. Carleen Gerber, Old Lyme.

Editor’s Note: All three authors are Ministers of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme.

PLEASE NOTE THAT AS OF JULY 31, 2020 COMMENTS ON THIS ARTICLE ARE NOW CLOSED.

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Comments

  1. Educated citizen says

    When the affordable housing project was proposed, the argument was to make available, in Old Lyme, housing for persons in less remunerative occupations.

    Now this church is seeking to link such a project to the current social and political outrage, that certainly does need to be addressed. However, that is a great chasm to be jumped.

    This church, in its unabashed and prohibited political agenda, now has resorted to employing societal guilt to achieve its goals.

    In my experience, Old Lyme has been a welcoming town to all. Similar to many Connecticut communities, housing costs do prohibit some access. This is economic reality not racism.

  2. Tom Richardson says

    If an affordable housing unit is built in Old Lyme, I’d like the new occupants to be part of the first responder community. We could use a few more firefighters, nurses, paramedics, soldiers and police officers around here.

    I really don’t care what color they are.

  3. Sue joffray says

    Why does affordable housing need to be in huge chunks. Couldn’t we do several smaller units around town. Sue Joffray

  4. Betsy Crum says

    When affordable housing is limited to “just people from Old Lyme” or “our first responders” or “people who work for our Town” it does, by definition, limit the type and diversity of the people who end up living there. If we really want to break down barriers and pay attention to bias, we have to accept that we have NOT historically been too welcoming to different kinds of people. Economic exclusion IS racial exclusion, especially in Connecticut.

    A small to medium-sized affordable housing development will not “change the nature of the town” in any way except for being more welcoming to different kinds of people. Old Lyme could use a little more of that.

    • Paula Sadlon says

      The comment on first responders was not limited to Old Lyme people. Rather, it was hopeful that new responders would move here. We have a need for them.

      Further, your comments would be more honest if you identified yourself as a professional in the affordable housing field, and also not as resident of Old Lyme. Your use of “we” have not been welcoming obscures that fact.

      • Betsy Crum says

        Yes, I work in the affordable housing field right now, although am in Colorado right now. I lived in Connecticut for 60 years, including 40 years working in cities and towns to try to help them be more inclusive (including all the towns in which I lived). I meant the broader “we” in my comment.

      • David Sunshine says

        I am a professional in the affordable housing industry, having worked for a housing authority for going on 25 years. I am also a resident of Lyme. Affordable housing would be a viable and vibrant part of our welcoming community, and this is a perfect time to move this idea forward.

  5. Call It What It Is says

    “De facto segregation” sugar coats it. To say it’s an “economic reality” is anything but an educated view.

    The truth is what has led to Old Lyme’s (and Lyme’s) “schools, [ ] houses of worship, [ ] public spaces, [ ] town boards and committees, and yes, [ ] housing, [being] so overwhelmingly homogeneous, so overwhelmingly white,” is systemic racism.

    If we really want to fix it, we should start by calling it what it is.

    (For a primer on systemic racism, watch this short video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrHIQIO_bdQ)

  6. Mike Bucior says

    Its not the systemic racism that worries me, its the systemic stupidity.

  7. Conrad F. Heede says

    Rather than create an affordable housing ghetto, current social studies and trends are to create mixed housing as this has a better historical record for creating community and exposing people of various backgrounds and means to each other. That is a better way to achieve shared values.

    • Rebecca Griffin says

      Ghetto? Where in this letter is the word ghetto?

      Different ideas and perspectives, experiences are a good thing. I am glad these ministers are reminding us all that we need and should do this in our community. My hope is we can find a place everyone agrees upon this time.

  8. Eddie Vautrain says

    I think Betsy Crum nails it on two fronts: economic exclusion is racial exclusion, one aspect of the systemic racism clarified by Call It What It Is, and that affordable housing will only change LOL by making the towns more welcoming to different kinds of people. We, that is all people in the towns, but especially the youth and future generations, only serve to benefit from such actions. Although I am not a member of any church in town, I’m thankful to these particular faith leaders for doing just that: speaking up and leading.

  9. Keep in mind that there are one hundred rental units to be built on North Bride Brook Rd. in East Lyme
    and another sixty units to be built on West Main Street Niantic in back of the wine emporium across from Rocky Neck State Park, (less than .5 miles from Old Lyme’s southern border). That’s a lot of housing. Shouldn’t available/affordable housing be looked at regionally instead of town by town ?

    Also, I take issue with the minister’s wording, “we need to get out of the way”. It sounds too much like be silent- don’t ask- don’t question.

  10. Creating affordable housing is only one tool to fortify diversity in Old Lyme.

    We have hundreds of people coming to Soundview every day in the summer from all over the state but no interaction with them because we have no town center and no restaurants to keep them here.

    This is one reason I strongly support the Halls Road Improvement project.

    Similarly, we do have a very large enclave of medium income residents who own cottages at the beach. But again, we have no interaction with them because we have no town center and no restaurants to interact with each other.

    Bridging the beach – town divide I still a second reason why I strongly support the Halls Road Improvement project.

    And lastly, we need to get rid of the blight on Hartford so town residents will want to go down to Soundview and interact with beach residents and out of towners.

  11. Bill Folland says

    A good message that should have included ,in it’s list of author’s, members of Old Lyme’s Board of Selectmen. Silence from town leaders, other than religious leaders , will continue to result in more talk and little action. The lack of any progress in developing Hall’s Road is a symptom of ineffective leadership by the First Selectman as well as many members of our land use boards.

  12. The First selectman was elected in part because he stated that the present Hall’s Rd. expansion project was not a priority. Side walks are needed but not the unpopular mega expansion that was presented. Many townspeople don’t want the residential/commercial scheme to happen. Look at the unsightly Bride’s Brook Liberty Way area off West Main Street Niantic. Condos, commercial activities, light industry & nursing home have made for for a very dangerous speedway and unsightly & trash strewn environment. That is an unacceptable mixture. Hall’s Rd. expansion needs to stay on the back burner. Let the area expand as needed- organically. Zone out box stores but let it be developed as the commercial needs of the community grow.

  13. Dear Steve,
    Thank you for your wonderful letter reminding each of us of our obligation to be generous and a civic requirement to build a just society. As many of us remember from scripture and lessons from our families, “unto whom much is given, much is expected.” (Luke 12:48)

    The lack of affordable rental housing in Old Lyme creates barriers for teachers, volunteer firemen, senior citizens, and many others. We want to be a welcoming community as we showed in our response to the refugees moving here from overseas. We must make a concerted effort to support The HOPE Partnership which will be completing a project in Madison as well as the one already built in Old Saybrook.

    Bill and I will be sending the HOPE Partnership a contribution and we urge others to do the same. We want to be counted with other affirming and generous towns and we want to do our part to remedy past failings.

    With gratitude,
    Bill and Sandra Rueb

  14. Thank you to Reverend Jungkeit et al for saying so eloquently what many of us – perhaps a silent majority? – believe. It is unfortunate that a small but loud minority of residents have shouted down proposals that would have enhanced the richness and diversity of our community. I fear our town is viewed, and may deserve to be, as closed, unwelcoming – and worse. If we want that to change – and most of us do – we need to stop letting a few angry opponents shout down every proposal that would change that impression. For that reason, and In support of those who are still trying to improve our town by opening our doors and letting in a little bit of change, I will be sending the HOPE Partnership a contribution.

  15. Mary Jo Nosal says

    Lots of people spoke their minds, on the record, in support of an affordable housing initiative in Old Lyme.Money talks. Please support Hope.

  16. Jim Carty says

    The town could buy Cherrystones and build more affordable housing while ridding to town of that blight on our sight. Ditto for the driving range.

  17. Bill Folland says

    David and others that share his views are on thenwrong side oof this debate. You cannot expect a positive outcome to any discussion when you start the conversation with reasons to oppose the issue.

    I agree that sidewalks should be the primary objective and leave the grand plan for another day.

    My issue with our first selectman and many land use members is that they talk sidewalks but that’s it. The town does not need to wait for another study to make this happen, seems they are using the Halls Road Committee as an excuse to do nothing.

    If you build it they will come.

  18. Edward Vasko says

    Equality is about equal opportunity, not equal outcome!

  19. Thomas D Gotowka says

    I hope it’s not too late to comment.
    Let me begin by saying that I don’t feel the tiniest bit suburban. Yesterday, the WH tweeted: “I am happy to inform all of the people living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream that you will no longer be bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood.”
    “Your housing prices will go up based on the market, and crime will go down. I have rescinded the Obama-Biden AFFH Rule. Enjoy!”
    Does this also end all affordable housing initiatives? Perhaps someone who is more DJT-savvy than I am could provide some interpretation.
    Eventually he will run out of programs and treaties from prior administrations to tear apart. As always, God save the United States of America.

  20. Bill Folland says

    Let’s try and stay on subject. Enjecting ones political biases does not add to this discussion.

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