Reflections and Gratitude from Our Executive Director

by Janice Elliott December 18, 2019

As I approach my retirement at the end of this month, I feel such a deep sense of gratitude to all those individuals and organizations who, over the course of my career, have taken me under their wings, allowed me to learn on the job with great mentors, and given me invaluable experience in a field that I love.

People ask me what it feels like to be retiring soon, and I must admit, the feelings are bittersweet, a mixture of sadness that comes with change and real excitement for what is to come, for me and for the work of ending homelessness.

I will dearly miss working with wonderful colleagues across the field who focus their creativity and passion every day on creating homes, ending homelessness, and advancing justice. I will also miss the process of invention – creating and designing new initiatives and strategies to tackle problems in new ways.

Admittedly, I’m looking forward to waking up without an alarm and taking the occasional nap.  I’m also excited for the process of reinvention of self and purpose that comes with a major life change like this.

But right now, I’m most excited for the changes ahead within the housing and homelessness field:

The first of these is the ascent of the next generation of leadership – rising leaders with energy and smarts who are taking the helm at organizations as we retirees transition away, and who themselves will take younger staff under their wings and allow them to learn on the job and grow in this work.

I’m also energized about the expanded awareness and focus on how fundamental place (where we live) is to promise (the possibilities open to us) and the importance of racial equity in bridging the two.

As a nation, and here in our home state of Connecticut, we are finally starting to recognize that health care reform and education reform have as much to do with where people live and the conditions in which they live as with the care and schooling they receive.

We’re now seeing health care advocates becoming housing advocates because they understand that having a quality affordable home promotes healthy, productive lives and prevents long-term health problems.  Education advocates are becoming housing advocates, as teachers know that children learn better and are more likely to graduate when they live in a stable, affordable home.

There is a greater recognition overall that we cannot prosper as a state unless we ensure that all our residents have decent places to live that they can afford.

Racial exclusion, segregation and the acceptance that it is okay that private-sector market forces determine whether someone has a decent home or not – this is the Achilles heel of our otherwise fabulous state, and we are all much more aware of that now thanks to the incredible work of advocates and educators both within and outside the housing field.

And finally, I’m excited that the appalling political turmoil of our age – as painful as it is – is laying the ground for a new activism.  People are fired up more than ever and there’s an uptick in advocacy, mobilizing and pushing government to do the right things and undo the wrong things.

In some parts of the country this new activism is leading to stronger tenant protections, greater investments in housing affordability and supply, and important zoning reforms.  It is a time ripe with opportunity for organizing and pushing for change.

There is so much work to be done. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll find among us retirees a silver tsunami of folks eager to join the fight as civilians.  After all, we may be retired, but we’re not tired. At least, as long as we have our naps.

(This is adapted from comments made by Janice on September 19, 2019 at the annual conference of the Affordable Housing Alliance of Connecticut in accepting the Alliance’s Vanguard Award.)

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