LAKEVILLE — Advocates for affordable housing need to appeal to values in order to succeed.
That was part of the message from Chris Estes at a Salisbury Forum talk at The Hotchkiss School on Friday, Dec.7.
Estes is vice president at Rebuilding Together, a nonprofit that specializes in urgent home repair and community revitalization in low- and moderate-income communities.
He asked the audience to consider the future of Northwest Corner towns, Salisbury in particular.
He noted that in Florida, communities dominated by retirees have historically resisted anything that would raise their taxes — including the infrastructure (schools, housing) that would attract younger people with families, and provide the workforce that serves the retirees.
These communities subsequently found that there were fewer and fewer health care and service workers willing to drive significant distances to work.
He said it is always harder to solve a problem in the midst of a crisis. “Much easier to be proactive.”
Estes warned that “communities are never static.”
He cited assets in the area, such as Sharon Hospital, outdoor recreation and cultural activities.
And he pointed out deficits — particularly, the inconsistent internet access.
“Are there opportunities for people to start businesses other than restaurants and boutique shops?”
He said high-speed internet is necessary to attract younger people who work in the tech sector.
“Are these assets exclusive?,” he asked. “We have these things, we don’t want it to change. Is it sustainable when the only people moving in are over 60?”
Estes listed strategies and actions to increase the supply of affordable housing, such as flexible zoning to allow creating housing units that don’t require major construction (accessory apartments, for instance).
The cost of land is always a major obstacle to creating more housing. Estes said that publicly controlled land usually provides the most bang for the buck.
He mentioned home ownership plans and community land trusts .
And he urged people to think regionally.
“I know New England is especially parochial,” but the towns in Litchfield County are interconnected and should be looked at in their entirety.
Finally, advocates for affordable housing need to refine their message. Creating housing requires “a comprehensive conversation, because political will is central.”
He urged advocates not to overwhelm audiences with statistics and grim warnings.
Instead, he recommended appealing to people’s values.
“Unless people can see what’s in it for them, it’s very hard to move the needle.”