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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