Over the summer, a planned affordable housing development of 358 units in Mansfield at the corner of Route 195 and Route 44 was the subject of significant conflict between the Town of Mansfield and the administration of the University of Connecticut.
In order to prevent such a development, in July, the UConn administration announced their plan to purchase approximately 20 acres of land in the town — much of which was set aside for mixed-use development (residential and commercial), including the site of the Mansfield Affordable Housing Corporation’s planned development. After substantial protest on behalf of the Town of Mansfield, the new Agwunobi administration reversed this purchase in late August.
This is a great step in the right direction. Allowing the construction of affordable housing units in Mansfield will have a dramatic impact on the cost of housing, and thus the cost of education for UConn students, which has risen in recent years alongside most colleges, disproportionately to the real wealth and wages per-capita in the United States. Assuming the demand for housing is relatively unchanged, increasing the supply of housing in Mansfield will lower the price of housing here.
This is very important for residents of UConn because, although the affordable housing development is being constructed off campus, the commodity of housing in Mansfield is priced according to all available housing supply whether it is owned by UConn, a private landlord or administered by a municipality as public housing. Dorms are so expensive at UConn because the supply of housing is so low. UConn sets the prices for their dorms in accordance with the amount of available housing stock off campus, and such a construction will at least forestall any further price increases in town — if not lower housing costs.
This explains why over the summer, UConn moved to block the construction of any affordable housing units. The university generates hundreds of thousands of dollars every semester in revenue from students who purchase housing, and the increase in housing stock off campus would directly threaten this source of revenue, which UConn uses to fund the construction of new residential facilities.
Lowering the cost of housing at UConn is a key component to lowering the overall price of attending school here, which is indispensable to any conversation about accessibility. Expensive room and board breeds a statistically White, upper-middle class student body.
Looking at the bigger picture, since more affordable housing in Mansfield would make the school and town more diverse and lower wealth inequality, the local effects of this construction would be amplified on a regional and state-wide scale. We often forget in conversations about the region that Connecticut is one of the most racially segregated states in the country, and one key reason for this is a lack of affordable housing. Accompanying this are also high property
taxes, restrictive single-family ordinances, and single-use zoning schemes that ultimately preserve the value of property in a given town at the expense of those who can’t afford to own or rent that property, who are going to be people of color in a society still dealing with the repercussions of centuries of inequality.
Mansfield contains what is arguably the most important university in one of the most important states in the country. It shouldn’t be expensive and restricted to upper-class students. It should be made accessible to anyone bright enough to contribute to it, and developing more affordable housing units is a promising first step towards this ambitious goal.