New Haven tries mixing things up in public housing

New Haven is holding a lottery. The jackpot:  the opportunity to live in a brand new public housing community.  You can hear our story about it here:


For city residents like Richard Estrada, winning would mean a lot. He’s got two boys at home, one of whom has autism and who he says needs more space than he’s got now. Estrada’s not your usual public housing tenant. He’s got a good job, running maintenance for the city’s police stations. But that’s the idea of this lottery: the city’s looking for the working poor. The idea is to get people with different incomes living together. The federal government funds hundreds of mixed income communities like this around the country.  New Haven is using some money for this development that would have otherwise supported housing vouchers.  People can use vouchers to help pay rent at apartments around the city. Bob Ellickson, who teaches property law at Yale, says these mixed income communities are way better than the old model of clustering the poorest people in massive projects.  But he says they’re not as good as the vouchers, which he says help twice as many people.  Federal housing officials say rent vouchers can only do so much.  This project is a brand new development with built-in social services, like job training.  Add in the lottery to mix things up economically, and, they say, you may have created a community that can make some progress against poverty.

Does money = health?

Image: vichie81 (

The economic disparity in Connecticut shows up in how healthy we are. Things like nutrition, exercise and doctor visits are all directly effected by how much income we have.  In the last of our recent Fairfield County Focus interviews on disparity, we talked with Elizabeth Krause of the Connecticut Health Foundation, which makes financial grants to address the issue of health disparities:

A report by the Foundation on eliminating health disparities can be found here.

Disparity at home

When it comes to housing, we’ve got it all in Connecticut: mansions, homeless shelters, and everything in between. Our recent look at disparity in Fairfield County Focus also took a look at what the issue means for where we live. We talked with David Fink of the Partnership for Strong Communities, which is a statewide housing policy organization. Fink says the wealth of Fairfield County drives up the cost of living for those on the lower end of the economic spectrum.  Here’s our conversation with Fink:

Fink says Stamford has the highest home rental costs in the entire country. Here’s a link to the Partnership’s latest report on housing affordability in the state. It says more than half of renters in the state pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

What about the achievement gap?

Governor Dannel Malloy and Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor (right) touring an elementary school in Meriden

In the world of education, we see the state’s economic disparity show up in what we call the “achievement gap.” Year after year, the state’s standardized tests show a shocking difference between the academic performance in our wealthier areas and the scores in the poorer areas.

Governor Dannel Malloy has introduced a range of reforms to the state’s education system, and many of them are aimed at doing something about the achievement gap. You can read some of his announcements here, and hear a recap from him and his Education Commissioner, Stefan Pryor, from our Fairfield County Focus episode here:

We talked about the Governor’s proposals with Rae Ann Knopf of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform. The Council evolved out of the Connecticut Commission on Educational Achievement, which was appointed by the state’s last governor, Republican Jodi Rell.  They issued a report with a number of recommendations, which you can read here. You can hear Knopf talk about the extent of the achievement gap and the commission’s recommendations here:

Knopf is a fan of the Governor’s reform proposals.  She explains why in the second part of our interview:


Probably the most contentious of Malloy’s education proposals is about teacher tenure.  Here’s Ebong Udoma’s report on Malloy’s Feb. 21 testimony on the topic before the General Assembly’s Education Committee:

Here at State of Disparity, we’re going to keep coming back to look at the reform proposals and what they could actually mean for Connecticut’s achievement gap. Stay tuned!

Just how big a disparity is there?

A recent episode of WSHU’s weekly show “Fairfield County Focus” took a look at economic disparity in that county.  It’s an area with some of the wealthiest towns in the country, as well as many of the challenges of extreme poverty. We began by speaking with Orlando Rodriguez of Connecticut Voices for Children.  You can hear our conversation with him here:

The group’s analysis of poverty and income rates from the 2010 American Community survey is online here.

Welcome to WSHU’s State of Disparity blog!

The difference between the very wealthy and the very poor is more evident and extreme in Connecticut than in probably any other state in the country.  We at WSHU are launching the “State of Disparity” project to shine a spotlight on that disparity. We’re interested in stories of wealth, poverty, and where those two worlds intersect. We’ll be addressing the issue in a series of radio stories, and updating this blog with our reporting and observations on the subject of economic disparity in the state.  And we want you to join us.  This blog is a place where we’d like you to share your comments, stories and observations about disparity in Connecticut.