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Bridgeport tackles public housing heat and air quality concerns

FILE: Pedestrians walk past the Margaret Morton Government Center building in downtown Bridgeport, Conn. on Wednesday, July 26, 2023.
Joe Buglewicz
Connecticut Public
FILE: Pedestrians walk past the Margaret Morton Government Center building in downtown Bridgeport, Conn. on Wednesday, July 26, 2023.

With a high asthma rate, exacerbated by climate change, Bridgeport is utilizing a state grant totaling nearly $25,000 to change the way it tackles heat and air quality in public housing.

“Like many urban settings, Bridgeport contends with a myriad of health disparities, often exacerbated by social determinants of health,” Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim said. “With this grant, we aim to address health inequity and overall quality of life for our most vulnerable residents.”

The city’s Health and Social Services Department received the grant, which will be used to hire a part time project coordinator. They’ll gather public input and help draft an action plan specifically targeting seniors and public housing residents, according to Deputy Director of Health and Social Services, Sumit Sharma.

“We want to listen to vulnerable communities and to narrow the target. We kind of focused on the senior population,” Sharma said. “Some of the convenient sampling size would be at the Park City Communities’ housing complexes, as a lot of them are seniors and low income and they reside there.”

The coordinator, who will remain in the role for one year, will help create and execute the plan in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Public Health and Yale University.

The funding may be utilized in various ways, Sharma said.

“The city activates different cooling centers at extreme heat or air quality events. Maybe transportation is a barrier, and that could be a conversation to have, how to get the seniors from their apartments to these cooling centers.”

The project came about following air quality concerns stemming from Canadian wildfires last summer.

“From our last year experience with the Canadian fire, and sort of the panic that the state of Connecticut had on how to respond to local emergencies regarding poor air quality,” Sharma said. “Everybody was looking at each other, who's going to take the lead on telling what. We wanted to take this opportunity to assess what should be the plan if there is an extreme heat event.”

Public listening sessions will be held in the next three months to educate residents and listen to their concerns.

“It could be providing education so people don't go out,” Sharma said. “They might want to know when their quality events are happening. So they could stay inside, or providing some sort of N-95 mask that filters out particulate matter.”

The grant funding will also be used towards the implementation of six community groups established within public housing locations in each zip code across the city.

Abigail is Connecticut Public's housing reporter, covering statewide housing developments and issues, with an emphasis on Fairfield County communities. She received her master's from Columbia University in 2020 and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2019. Abigail previously covered statewide transportation and the city of Norwalk for Hearst Connecticut Media. She loves all things Disney and cats.

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