Connecticut residents have the opportunity to end segregation in our state. During these summer months, we marched and rallied in communities across Connecticut, including my hometown of Darien. We marched for a more just nation, calling for an end to racist institutions, policies and systems. We sent a strong message that change is needed now. This moment demands that we match our marching with the hard work of reimagining our community, our state and our laws to create a more just Connecticut This requires we understand the facts, listen to new ideas and ask questions.

The fact is, while Connecticut is one of the wealthiest states in the nation, we are also one of the most segregated, and maintain one of the highest achievement and wealth gaps in the country. Many of our zoning policies directly contribute to this institutionalized segregation and disparity. Laws that require McMansion size lots, unnecessary numbers of parking spaces and prohibit apartment-style homes all contribute to the injustice many of us have spent the summer marching against. As ideas are proposed to fix these problems, it’s important to keep these facts in mind and the goal of desegregating the state at the forefront.

Change is never easy. But we can’t let old fears get in the way of building a better Connecticut. Questions like whether more inclusive communities will “burden” our schools and where our new neighbors “come from” fall into the racist traps of the past that hold us back today. When I was first selectwoman of Darien, we prioritized the construction of new, affordable homes in our community. We also implemented an inclusionary zoning regulation. But I did not fully appreciate the injustices caused by zoning laws, and our efforts were not enough to create necessary change. As the Commissioner of the Department of Housing, I saw firsthand how bad zoning policies contribute to institutional racism. If you don’t have a safe, affordable home it’s harder to find a job, go to school and provide for the future of your family. That’s why, during my time as commissioner, we contributed to the construction of 22,000 affordable homes across Connecticut, and championed reform that would have required every community in Connecticut to set aside a certain number of new apartments built as affordable.

This moment has taught us; however, that more is needed. That’s why I am inspired to see groups like Desegregate CT fight for reforms such as enabling the construction of accessory apartments, promoting multifamily homes in all communities across Connecticut, and modernizing parking and sewer standards. Changes such as these will help to break the chains of institutional racism here in Connecticut.

Today, we, all have a responsibility to work towards and lead meaningful change. It’s a time to be bold, shed fears, understand the facts, and get to work building a desegregated Connecticut.

Evonne M. Klein

Former Darien First Selectwoman

Former Housing Commissioner for the State of Connecticut

Former Co-Chair of the Fair Housing Task Force