February 21, 2024

Panelists to Explore Past, Present, Future Of Affordable Housing

By Anne Levin

Friday, February 23 is the last day to view the exhibit devoted to the Princeton Affordable Housing Map at the Bernstein Gallery in Robertson Hall of Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA). The show is being unofficially ushered out with a special panel discussion being held in the building the evening before.

The past, present, and future of affordable housing in Princeton is the topic of the event featuring Fern Spruill, chair of the former Princeton Civil Rights Commission (CRC); Edward Truscelli, executive director of Princeton Community Housing; and Matt Mleczko, a Ph.D. candidate at the University, in a conversation moderated by Anastasia R. Mann, lecturer and founding director of SPIA. Admission is free and open to all. It begins with a reception from 4 to 5 p.m., followed by the panel from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

While the exhibit is ending, the document that inspired it remains interactive and available online at spia.princeton.edu/events/princeton-affordable-housing-map.

The map was created by the independent Princeton Affordable Housing Project in an effort to collect and record histories related to affordable housing in Princeton. The project dates back to the summer of 2020, and was borne out of a partnership with the CRC and the University’s Pace Center for Civic Engagement as well as SPIA and the University’s School of Architecture.

“It was weeks after the murder of George Floyd, when there was a kind of reawakening of the confronting of systemic racism in this country,” said Mleczko. “The idea was to address racial inequalities, studying housing inequities and how that relates to segregation. We were also addressing the long-term trend in the decline of the Black population here. A lot of what we had heard from neighbors and longtime residents of Princeton was that the segregation is really still ongoing.”

The project “seeks to understand how stark housing inequality in the municipality came about, and provoke questions and suggestions for future development in housing,” reads a press release about the panel discussion. The map offers viewers “a tour of Princeton’s affordable housing landscape, past and present, and illustrates the challenges and necessity of affordable housing in Princeton today.”
Mleczko credits much of the work on the map to colleague Carrie Bly and then-undergraduate Justin Hinson. “Much of what you see on that map was her work,” he said of Bly. “Her source materials were everything from newspaper articles to interviews with local elders and longtime residents.”

The project became the topic of an intersession course at the University, in which students and staff members worked together to add to the map. “Part of what makes this unique is that any member of the public can propose adding to it,” Mleczko said. “It’s a document that lives on. This panel is designed to help.”

Princeton finalized its latest plan to meet the need for affordable housing in December 2019. The next round is coming up in 2025.

“We have a profound shortage of affordable housing in Princeton,” said Mleczko. “It’s an issue that affects a lot of folks. Like many communities, we’re in a hole when it comes to the affordable housing we need. But I also want to emphasize that trends recently have been positive. There is really good momentum. I don’t want to leave people with the idea that there is no way we can meet the need. Our latest settlement in the third round with Fair Share Housing Center is a really positive step. The hundreds of units that are going up are going to help.”

The panel discussion provides an opportunity for further progress. “Folks in the community need to come together, step up, and realize we need to be better at providing for folks who want to remain here or would like to live here but can’t afford it. This event can be an inspiration as we look toward those next obligations. We want to really help Princeton reach its goals for being an inclusive and equitable place.”