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The original item was published from 9/24/2018 10:04:58 AM to 1/1/2019 12:10:00 AM.

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Human Services

Posted on: September 24, 2018

[ARCHIVED] IN THE NEWS: Report: More Greenwich families struggling financially

Report: More Greenwich families struggling financially
By Hannah Dellinger | September 22, 2018

GREENWICH — Aziz Elsoudani is an economics professor and financial analyst. He’s written multiple books and dozens of articles in three different languages. Despite years of toiling and saving to support his family, he is looking for work at 79.

Elsoudani left Egypt for political reasons and came to the U.S. in 2002 to teach, leaving behind his land and assets. He worked at high schools, colleges and universities in the U.S. for over a decade, but recently he had to stop teaching after suffering a spinal injury that precludes him from standing for long periods at a time. The professor said the savings he brought to America was quickly depleted by high rental prices and medical bills.

“I lost everything,” he said. “You can’t imagine.”

Elsoudani and wife, Fawzia, got a break 15 years ago when they were accepted into Agnes Morley Heights, a senior housing facility in Greenwich subsidized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. There, they pay 30 percent of their income as rent, a much more affordable prospect than renting in the private sector.

“This building, it is low rent,” Elsoudani said. “All (facilities), I appreciate. I appreciate the town and the administration of the public housing for everything (they) provide.”

The couple is able to cover their monthly expenses because they live in public housing, Elsoudani said.

But other Greenwich residents paying a higher percentage of their income for housing have bigger financial challenges to overcome. Each month, they face difficult decisions, as they live paycheck to paycheck.

“If there’s one dramatic circumstance, like a death in the family, or somebody losing a job, or someone getting sick, it’s a disaster,” said Alan Barry, commissioner of the town’s Department of Human Services. “And they’re not putting away for retirement, for college.”

Greenwich’s high cost of living and a shortage of jobs that pay a living wage in the region are causing an increase in the number of people struggling to make ends meet, according to town officials and nonprofit administrators.

About 21 percent of Greenwich’s population is employed but can’t afford basic necessities, according to the United Way’s recently released Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed report, and more than 6 percent are living below the federal poverty line.

The numbers show an increase from the 2016 ALICE report, which listed 15 percent of Greenwich’s population as income-constrained and found 5 percent living below federal poverty guidelines.

“The differences are kind of stark,” said David Rabin, president and CEO of Greenwich United Way. “Almost a third (of the population) is below the ALICE threshold.”

Cost of living

A “household survival budget” calculated in the 2018 report shows a big increase in the cost of living in Fairfield County. It now takes a bare minimum annual salary of $81,790 to support a family of four. The survival budget for 2016 showed the need for a minimum salary of $71,290 for a family of four.

According to the 2018 report, a single adult without children needs to make $26,280 a year to survive in Fairfield County, which is up from the minimum yearly salary of $22,400 laid out in the 2016 report.

There isn’t a survival budget specific to Greenwich available, Rabin said, but if it were calculated, it would likely be higher than Fairfield County’s, given the higher cost of housing and child care in town.

The 2018 survival budget for Fairfield County says it costs at least $1,775 a month to house a family of four. But in Greenwich, it’s difficult to find housing for a family that size for under $2,000 a month.

“It would be very difficult to find housing on that level,” Barry said. “It’s twice the amount of what (this report) is really showing.”

The rising price of housing has outpaced incomes in recent years, said Anthony Johnson, director of the Housing Authority of Greenwich.

“It’s become more difficult to find affordable housing, even for people who have Section 8 vouchers,” he said, referring to a federal program that subsidizes rent payments to private landlords.

There are waiting lists to be accepted into the Housing Authority’s rental properties, Johnson said, with some people waiting up to two or three years to get in.

On top of housing, the cost of child care for Greenwich residents can eat up much of family’s budget, said Johnson. There are two lower-cost day care centers run by Family Centers on the Housing Authority’s properties, but those programs are still a big expense for families, the director said.

“How do you ever get ahead?” Johnson said. “If it costs just as much to pay for child care as you’re earning, then it doesn’t make any sense to work.”


Reports showing job growth are deceiving, Barry said.

“We see an increase in jobs, but a lot of those jobs are service jobs and they pay at minimum wage or a little bit above,” said the commissioner. “They’re not really the types of wages that can support your family.”

Wages have stagnated, said Barry, and quality jobs offering opportunities for advancement are more rare.

“Now it takes two people working in the family and combining their wages to make it work and sometimes they’re not able to,” he said, adding it’s especially difficult for single mothers, given the gender pay gap.

Nancy Coughlin, executive director of Neighbor to Neighbor, said most of the nonprofit’s food bank clients work in the retail, service or hospitality sectors. Many of them work multiple jobs.

“Fewer people have the kind of high-paying jobs that existed before the recession,” she said. “People who may have been able keep up with the cost living 10 years ago aren’t able to anymore because wages aren’t keeping up with cost of living.”

A way forward

Greenwich is a microcosm of America’s income inequality, said Barry, and how the town addresses it now may offer a solution for the rest of the country.

“We’re entering a critical phase,” he said. “We’re now 10 years past the great recession. The recovery is not having a significant impact on a majority of the population.”

Offering quality education to children from struggling families is the path that will have the greatest impact on reversing the cycle of income inequality, the commissioner said.

“We see a direct link between education and employment,” said Barry. “If you have a well-educated population, that should certainly guide them and get them prepared for jobs of the future.”

There are opportunities for children to receive a quality education in Greenwich, Barry said, but the school system must tackle its persistent achievement gap among schools that breaks down largely on economic and racial lines.

“There’s still a segment of the population in Greenwich that’s fallen behind,” he said. “What we’re trying to do now is to become more proactive and to be able to work with children and families earlier, so that by the time they enter preschool or kindergarten, they’re better prepared. And that’s the key.”

Community support for nonprofits and agencies that help those in need is essential, Rabin said.

“The community support is so important, now more than ever, with state and federal cutbacks to programs,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important that the Greenwich United Way is here to help those most vulnerable.”

Life below ALICE

Elsoudani stopped by the Department of Human Services on Thursday morning to meet with case managers about acquiring a caretaker and maid for his wife through its Homemaker program.

Without public assistance, the husband said he wouldn’t be able to afford a comparable service from a private company. It’s essential for Elsoudani to find daytime help for Fawzia so he can leave home to work.

The couple said they are happy with the life they built for themselves in Greenwich. Despite the economic challenges of surviving in a region with a high cost of living, they are comfortable living in public housing.

“It is one small apartment (with) one bedroom and (a) living room,” Elsoudani said. “But it’s enough for me and my wife. I am satisfied ... living here.”

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