Senate's New Minority Leader Stumps For Affordable Housing
By JEFFREY B. COHEN, Courant Staff Write
December 20, 2007
John McKinney — the newly minted minority leader of the state Senate and son of the late Congressman Stewart McKinney — wants to end homelessness.
So Wednesday, two months after testifying on Capitol Hill in favor of extending a landmark federal homelessness law his father sponsored, McKinney chose Mary Townsend Seymour Apartments, a housing apartment complex in Hartford's North End, to call for more state money and attention to affordable housing.
"Clearly, I recognized when I was down in Washington, D.C., that — because of my father's legacy on the issue, because of the fact that the nation's first coordinated response on homelessness was named after him — I have a unique legacy, and I want to take advantage of that," McKinney said Wednesday. "And to the extent that I can use that to promote an important public issue, I think it would be a mistake if I didn't."
The Fairfield Republican said he will push his legislative colleagues this year to start working on what housing advocates say could solve the homelessness problem — adding more than $17 million to the state's budget to build an additional 650 supportive housing units and to provide services to another 150.
He also called for incentives for municipalities that encourage the construction of supportive and affordable housing, and for increasing "set asides" that would compel developers that get state funds to build apartments to make some of them affordable.
"There are so many important societal issues that we are dealing with," McKinney said in an interview, noting health care, education and employment. "When you look at all of those issues, there's a central, unifying factor: If someone doesn't have a stable home, none of those other things can happen successfully."
McKinney's press conference came a week after local, state and national housing advocates in cities across the country, including Hartford, gathered for Project Homeless Connect — an event to change the way that social workers, employment agencies, health care and housing providers deliver services to the homeless.
That McKinney would declare his intentions on the issue so clearly before the beginning of the coming legislative session had housing advocates smiling.
"As a newly elected minority leader, he's stepping forward and giving his signature to an issue that he clearly cares about. He's making it a priority issue," said Diane E. Randall, executive director of the Partnership for Strong Communities.
Although there have been legislators who have talked about aspects of housing, "there hasn't been someone who consistently and persistently" advocated for the "spectrum" of housing issues, she said.
"To have a leader talking about that across the spectrum, I don't think we've had one before in my time," she said.
Stressing that he's not the only one interested in housing, McKinney said that Wednesday was the first day in a long-term housing campaign.
"I'm here today to say that I'm making a commitment, and my job is to convince the state of Connecticut to agree with the advocates — not John McKinney — to agree with the advocates that we can end homelessness."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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