Needs for investment in New Haven housing grows [New Haven Register (CT)]
New Haven Register (CT), 2014-01-26
NEW HAVEN >> Throughout her life, Anne Hope Bennett, an heir to the Winchester family fortune, was active in her church, an accomplished singer, and dedicated to helping others.
"A woman who remained unmarried and went into middle-age and beyond was expected to do service in the community," said Bennett's grandniece, Susan Silliman Addis. "It was expected that she would be interested and knowledgeable about the health of the community, and would therefore want her money to do something to enrich that."
Long since her death in 1942, Bennett's philanthropy has continued to benefit the community. The endowment she established in her will for the benefit of organizations "engaged in the prevention and cure of sickness in New Haven or its vicinity" has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars for organizations, including the Visiting Nurses Association and Yale New Haven Hospital. Seed money from the Bennett fund helped the Fair Haven Community Health Center expand from a storefront open two days a week in the early 1970s to a clinic that now sees 15,000 patients a year.
Philanthropy today, as it did in Bennett's time, depends on people who have an interest in and knowledge about their community. During this time of rapid demographic and economic change, new ways of measuring social progress are helping make sense of the community and highlight areas of strength to build on and challenges that need resources.
Called social indicators, these measures provide a comprehensive picture of the social health of the community with data that shows how people are doing in their day-to-day lives. In contrast to the macroeconomic indicators that saturate the media like the stock market, inflation, and housing sales, social indicators measure wellbeing and quality of life more broadly. They include measures of health, education, inequality, safety, and civic involvement. By highlighting areas where targeted investment could make a difference, they provide data that empower people and policy makers to take action.
Recently, social indicators about income inequality have provided a different story to the news of an economic recovery that is narrowly focused on rising stock market values. Now at unprecedented levels, income inequality has over the past several decades dramatically increased the segregation of people into either well- off neighborhoods or poor neighborhoods, resulting in an unequal access to quality public education and social mobility. In the recent Datahaven publication, "Greater New Haven Community Index 2013," Greater New Haven is shown to be among the most unequal regions in the country, ranking 301 out of 366 metropolitan regions.
In a recent major speech on inequality, President Barack Obama noted the vanishing ladder to middle-class prosperity is not only about jobs and wages, but also about policy priorities. He called attention to the fact a major contributor to inequality has been the high cost of healthcare relative to income, an issue the Affordable Care Act attempts to fix. The high cost of housing is another factor.
Within Greater New Haven, one in five households spend more than half their income on housing costs, as shown in Calibrating the Community, a recent overview of key regional indicators published by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven that is based on the 2013 Greater New Haven Community Index. The data suggest the need for investment that increases the number of housing units, both market rate and subsidized, in order to drive housing costs down, ultimately reducing the outsized financial burden on families with low incomes. The report is available online at www.cfgnh.org/learn.
Of course, jobs that pay a living wage are central to reducing inequality. But access to living-wage jobs is limited for large numbers of New Haven residents. Of the 47,450 jobs that pay at least a "living wage" of $20 per-hour located in New Haven, only 4 percent are held by residents from low-income neighborhoods, roughly one third of the city's population. Where the free market has abandoned large swaths of the population, private philanthropy can step into the void with social enterprises that offer long-term solutions.
Connecticut Center for Arts and Technology is one example, supported by local philanthropist Carlton Highsmith, in partnership with The Community Foundation. A job training and arts education center, ConnCAT trains people in phlebotomy and medical coding, jobs that are available in the region's expanding healthcare sector.
An idea like ConnCAT needs venture capital to succeed, said Highsmith. "Employing people in the community, helping young people start their own businesses. That inspires me."
Dr. Penny Canny is the former senior vice president for Grantmaking and Strategy at The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. This story is part of an occasional series of stories by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven on nonprofits that benefit from its grantmaking.
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