YWCA Greenwich Panel Talk Equity and Accessibility in Greenwich in Honor of Martin Luther King

Thursday night’s “Bending the Arc” panel discussion at the YWCA Greenwich focused on inequity and access in Greenwich.

YWCA Greenwich CEO Mary Lee Kiernan quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s words from a speech given at the National Cathedral on March 31, 1968 when he said, “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

Data Haven‘s CEO Mark Abraham; Greenwich’s commissioner of Human Services, Demetria Nelson; Evonne Klein, a housing advocate and founder of  Fairfield County Talks Housing. Klein was formerly the Commissioner of housing for the State of Connecticut. She previously served as the First Selectwoman of the Town of Darien; and Dr. Louis Hart, Medical Director of Health Equity at Yale New Haven Health System. Jan 18, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager


YWCA Greenwich CEO Mary Lee Kiernan welcomed a full house to the a panel discussion entitled, “Bending the Arc,” which focused on inequity and access in Greenwich. Jan 18, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager

US Senator Richard Blumenthal delivered a statement remotely, noting that about a third of Greenwich families are one major unexpected expense away from financial disaster, and 25% of Greenwich Public School students quality for free or reduced lunch.

He said obstacles to socio-economic mobility were the “unfinished work” of Dr. King and Coretta Scott and remain one of America’s most challenging social issues.

Congressman Jim Himes said in taped remarks that it was important not to lose the broader legacy of Dr. King’s aspirations and ambitions.

“Yes, we honor him for the remarkable work he did for desegregating this country and providing for racial justice, but sometimes it’s lost that Dr. King was extremely vocal on the Vietnam War in which tens of thousands of Americans lost their lives, and that the day he lost his life, he was in Memphis advocating for economic justice for sanitation workers in the city of Memphis,” Himes said.

Data Haven’s CEO Mark Abraham uses data to show that controlling for age, home ownership rates in Greenwich are far highest among white people.  Data Haven offers an equity report for every town in Connecticut. Jan 18, 2024  Photo: Leslie Yager

Data Haven – Understanding Equity in Greenwich

Data Haven’s CEO Mark Abraham said since 2015 Data Haven completed 45,000 interviews in Connecticut, including 900 randomly selected adults in Greenwich – about 100 from each each of the town’s neighborhoods.

He illustrated chronic disparities in income, housing, healthcare and food security through data.

According to Data Haven, in Greenwich, 39% of Black or Latino residents reported experiencing discrimination in healthcare at some point in their life, compared to 3% of White residents.

Abraham said Census data showed that many parts of Greenwich were more diverse than Fairfield County as a whole and there are persistent income disparities.

While the equity profile for Greenwich (see page 14) notes that the median household income in Greenwich is $180,447, racial disparities in outcomes related to education, housing, employment, and wages result in disparate household-level incomes and overall wealth. Households led by Black or Latino adults generally average lower incomes than white households.

Abraham also noted that Black and Latino adults represent a large share of people who work in Greenwich, up to 10,000 workers have potentially stressful commutes from places like Norwalk and Bridgeport, Danbury, and New York’s outer boroughs.

For jobs located in Greenwich in the financial sector, average income is about $500,000, and for jobs in Greenwich in the retail sector the pay is on average about $40,000.

Elaborating on income disparities, he said despite examples of high income and wealth in the region, there are also large differences in wages between men and women. White women in the Greenwich area earn about $90,000 a year on average, and Latino men earn about $45,000 a year on average.

A household is considered cost-burdened when they spend 30% or more of their income on housing costs, and severely cost-burdened when they spend 50% or more of their income on housing costs.

Data Haven’s report for Greenwich notes that among renter households in Greenwich, 42% are cost-burdened, compared to 28 % of owner households. This also leads to housing overcrowding, which is defined as having more than one occupant per room.

Talking about financial stress in Greenwich Mr. Abraham said thousands of residents face food insecurity.

Breaking down the data by neighborhood, for example, in the 06870 zip code (Old Greenwich) only 2% of residents reported food insecurity whereas the number jumps to 14% in the mix of neighborhoods around the center of town.

Data Haven CEO Mark Abraham; Commissioner of Human Service for the town of Greenwich Demetria Nelson; and housing advocate and founder of  Fairfield County Talks Housing Evonne Klein. Jan 18, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager

Demetria Nelson, the Commissioner of Human Services for the town of Greenwich, said the trends her department sees were in line with the Data Haven numbers.

Slightly over 1,800 Greenwich households – about 4,250 individuals –  accessed services from her department in FY 2023, with 70% of the population they serve living in Chickahominy, south center of town, Pemberwick and Byram.

Of their clients, approximately 37% are are 65 or older, and 45% identify as Hispanic.

Ms Nelson said outside Greenwich, misperceptions and stereotypes persist, and there is a lack of awareness about the town’s demographics and large disparities in income.

“People are always surprised to hear that we have public housing and affordable housing,” she said. “Once that education occurs, people are willing to want to help.”

Ms Nelson said 77% of the households her department serves are led by women, but since Human Services operates during business hours of 8:30 to 4:30pm, which is prohibitive for some clients, they now offer virtual and telephone visits, as well as home visits and occasionally meetings after hours are possible.

Housing: “A Direct Line from Zoning to Segregation”

The panel also included Evonne Klein, a housing advocate and founder of  Fairfield County Talks Housing. Klein was also the former Commissioner of Housing for the State of Connecticut and previously served as the First Selectwoman in Darien.

Ms Klein said zoning had a direct line to segregation, and fueled inequities.

“Connecticut is one of the most segregated states in the nation,” she said. “And Fairfield County is one of the most segregated counties in the nation.”

Of almost 25,000 units of housing in Greenwich, she said only 1,388 units were deed restricted affordable housing, for a total of about 5%.

“What this tells us is that Greenwich could do better,” she said, adding that Norwalk has 13% deed restricted affordable housing and Stamford has 15% deed restricted affordable housing.

“Greenwich is a very white community at 74%, but Darien’s is whiter, at 88% – so Darien is less diverse,” she said, adding that Norwalk’s population is 51% white; Stamford’s is 49% white.

“Clearly more diverse communities – race, ethnicity, culture, age and gender – make communities thrive,” she said. “That’s what you want.”

“Multi-family and affordable housing applications in front of P&Z bring out all the objectors,” she said. “All of us supporters need to be as vocal as the objectors.”

Ms Klein said zoning was key to change. She noted that the in Greenwich about 17,000 out of almost 25,000 homes have three or more bedrooms.

“That’s a lot of homes that are very expensive, and the low rate of home ownership among people of color reflects the continued inability to create generational wealth,” she said.

“How can communities do better?” she asked. “Zone for and build multi-family housing.”

She said CT’s Zoning Enabling Act gave the authority to towns to zone and create zoning and planning boards and regulations, but it also required towns to zone for multi-family housing and provide housing for low and moderate income individuals and families.

Still, she said, 22 towns in the state do not zone for multi-family housing at all. She noted Weston has a two-acre minimum lot size.

The moderator was Simone Quartey, director of the YWCA Greenwich’s Center for Equity and Justice. Jan 18, 2024 Photo: Leslie Yager

Ms Quartey asked Ms Klein to break apart some of the micro-aggressive language around housing.

“Wherever there are conversations about affordable housing or inclusive measures for housing and economic development, there is resistance,” Klein said.

Ms Klein said “trigger phrases” are used by people to oppose to affordable housing.

“If you attend a public hearing for affordable housing, or multi-family housing, folks will get up and say, ‘We don’t want those people to live in our community,'” she said. “It’s rooted in classism and racism. And that there are people who live in affordable housing or public housing who are ‘lazy.'”

“And there are code words,” she said. “I’m proud to say that Connecticut took the word ‘character’ out of the Zoning Enabling Act and (replaced it with) descriptive language.”

“When I think about character of a town, I think, is it brick, clapboard or an architectural style to that town? The word character means different things. But to the negative folks, it means not white.”

Health Equity and “Race-Based Medicine”

Dr. Lou Hart, Medial Director of Health Equity at Yale New Haven Health System, said health equity was reflected in both quality and safety.

“Historically we have algorithms and equations that tell us to treat patients differently on the basis of race,” he said.

He mentioned the kidney function tool called Estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate (eGFR) was a simple blood test commonly ordered in the health system.

“It’s a basic metabolic panel and it predicts how well a patient’s kidney function is doing,” he said. “Until August 2022 at our hospitals in our health systems, we used to report out ‘eGFR African-American’ and ‘eGFR non-African-American.'”

“I saw this very dynamic result that said if the patient was white they were sick, but if they were African-American they were healthy,” he said.

He said that data from a 1999 study of kidney function revealed the African-American population was a sicker population to begin with, and it was assumed that reflected a biological difference.

“It was not that long ago,” he said. “And it’s not just kidney function. There’s at least 15 or 20 other algorithms that take race into account.”

Dr. Hart said until recently flawed algorithms were used to prescribe different medication based on race.  He described disparate treatment as “race-based medicine.”

“So what I’m learning today is that medical racism is just medicine?” Ms Quartey asked.

“It’s got to stop,” Dr. Hart said. “It’s tough when only doctors, nurses and social workers know about it. Patients need to know about it because if we were treating Jewish people differently, or if we were treating people with blue eyes differently, you’d say that makes no sense.”


Data Haven’s Equity report on Greenwich

Fairfield County Talks Housing

Greenwich Dept of Human Services 

More on Dr. Louis Hart