Chat with... Kara-Marie Laviola, affordable housing advocate
NEW CANAAN — For two years, Kara-Marie Laviola lived at Millport Apartments and became a major advocate for her neighbors and for affordable housing in general.
Laviola, 29, grew up in town and is a single mother of Elise, 10, and Dylan, 6. In August she moved out of Millport and into a River Street condominium owned by her mother, but she remains involved in issues of affordable housing.
According to Laviola, just before she learned about an open apartment at Millport, she had been reluctantly contemplating a move out of her hometown with her children. The family was living in a small apartment, and her children were sharing a room.
Luckily for Laviola, the Millport unit became available and she was not forced, as many are, to leave the town she loved and the school district she hoped would provide her children with ample opportunity.
Q: How did you come to be involved with the Housing Authority?
A: When I first moved in, the company managing Millport had just changed to the Norwalk Housing Authority.
It’s a tight-knit community at Millport — it’s really a community within a community — so people would mention things to me, or we would have resident meetings. At one of the meetings, I noticed that only a couple people had come, so I decided to get an email list together. That way, if somebody couldn’t make meetings, they’d still know what was going on.
Evidently there was a communication issue with the prior management. It wasn’t that I was trying to step in on the Norwalk Housing (Authority), because they did a fantastic job while I was there, but they oversee all affordable properties in Norwalk. They have a lot on their plate. We were 18 units, whereas a lot of their properties are hundreds of units. So I wanted to do my part by staying on top of everything. Basically I wanted to open communication between the neighbors and the managing company and the New Canaan Housing Authority.
When the Housing Authority brought the Millport project forward, they said they required a resident commissioner. I was nominated and eventually voted in.
I’ve learned so much just by being on the board and being exposed to different conversations, different ideas. It was such a pleasure working with Scott and everyone else on the board. I really felt involved, and even recently people at Millport were still reaching out to me. It’s been nice to continue to have that relationship.
Q: Do you think that relationship will continue? Do you think you’ll stay involved with affordable housing issues in some capacity?
A: I would love to. I no longer live at Millport, but I still really support the idea. Everything that Scott has laid out, even moving forward with Phase Two and what they’re looking into doing with Lakeview Apartments. I’ve really enjoyed being a part of it.
Q: In your time as a member of the Housing Authority, were you aware of any opposition in town to the proposed development of increased affordable housing units?
A: The one complaint was in a letter to the editor about the size of the project. But personally, as someone who has grown up in this landscape, I think the units look beautiful. It’s almost like an optical illusion where the units are actually bigger than they look.
When you look at what the Housing Authority has projected to do, on top of what they already have done, would you rather trust the Housing Authority of New Canaan with that job, or leave it up to the state or a random developer to come in and do whatever they want?
Q: Do you feel there’s any stigma about living in affordable housing in a community as affluent as New Canaan?
A: Honestly, I don’t think so. I know for my kids I haven’t experienced anything like that. You know how kids are, and Dylan and Elise haven’t come to me complaining about anything like that.
I had such a pleasant upbringing in this community, and for my kids to be able to experience that same thing was really my goal.
Q: Would you have stayed in New Canaan if not for finding a place at Millport?
A: Millport was crucial for me because my kids were getting to an age where I was thinking, ‘Am I going to have to move to another town?’ Elise was already in elementary school, and Dylan was going to be in school pretty soon. I know I couldn’t have stayed at the space I was in with two school- aged children. It just wasn’t realistic. Luckily it all kind of fell together perfectly. It was a great place for us to be and I was so grateful to be able to live there the years that we did.
Affordable housing’s such a blessing to so many people who are able to stay where they grew up, or where their kids went to school, or in the community that they’ve always been a part of.