Report: More Greenwich families struggling financiallyBy 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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
“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 ...