The Hartford/ ‘Scarborough 11’ zoning fight presents an interesting case leading to debates and disputes on what constitutes a family. While the living arrangement shared by eight adults and three children in a brick mansion with 9 bedrooms located on 68 Scarborough St does not conform to the traditional definition of family for the purpose of residential living, the principles of Catholic Social Teaching identify a better and more humanitarian approach to communal living. When observed strictly under the lens of the principles identified under Catholic Social Teaching, it is noticed that S-11 represents a better and healthier approach to living than the zoning law of the city of Hartford.
The issue leading to the conflict between S-11 and the city of Hartford may be briefly summarized as follows: A house has been collectively bought by some residents, now identified as S-11 in the city of Hartford. Together they constitute eight adults and three children, while “only two of the owners are listed on the mortgage and city property record” (de la Torre, paragraph 3). They live together as a family and have a common bank account, and take turns in doing household chores. However, they are not a family under the legal definition of a family approved by the city’s code, according to which, only “those related by blood, marriage, civil union or legal adoption” come under the strict definition of a family” (de la Torre, paragraph 5).
The neighbors while conceding that the occupants, consisting of two individuals, two couples and their children and a childless couple, are decent people but have claimed at the same time that they have violated zoning laws upholding single family homes. The occupants are now facing cease and desist order in response to which they have made an appeal to the Hartford Zoning board, the competent authority to admit appeals against eviction. The neighbors of this rich locality who are opposed to the occupants staying together in a single family zoning claim that this kind of living arrangement will diminish the quiet character of their affluent neighborhood.
Nevertheless, there are other residents in the community who have favored the living arrangement of the occupants. In addition, the contradictory language is also evident in the zoning regulations. For instance, according to one section of the regulation, there can be “a maximum density of 3.6 families per acre in Scarborough’s R-8 zoning district, although it’s not clear that the rule applies to single-family lots” (de la Torre, paragraph 17). This mansion occupies nearly two acres.
The Scarborough 11 has taken the fight to the federal district court challenging the city’s definition of family. The eight adults in their complaint have claimed that “they are part of a functional, taxpaying household that includes three children, but that Hartford's zoning laws forbid them from living together” (de la Torres, paragraph 2).
As far as the S-11 is concerned, there are several arguments in their favor including the violation of their right to personal autonomy and privacy under 14th Amendment, the city’s antiquated and therefore, problematic zoning code, the long tradition of American extended family.
In context of the above controversy, it is evident that the principles of Catholic Social Teaching can be an excellent tool for intervention. Some of the important principles of Catholic Social Teaching include human dignity or respect for the human being, promotion of family and community, protection of property rights against state encroachment, promotion of common good, and the role of government as the promoter of common good. While there are two more principles of CST, the five principles identified above can be meaningfully applied to address the Hartford/S11 dispute. The other two principles of CST include respect for worker and his work and promotion of peace and concern for the poor (Kaczor, 2007).
It is not difficult to notice that this case is an excellent fit into the principles of Catholic Social Teaching Principles. As human beings, the dignity of the members of S-11 ought to be upheld. They cannot be evicted as violators of the law especially when the neighbors have proclaimed their good behavior. Since each human being is a child of God, they enjoy immunity from harm and deserve to be treated with dignity.
Family is not be perceived in the narrow sense as defined by the city’s zoning law. The focus of the Christian family is on family as understood in the broadest sense of community. Since the members of S-11 are leading a harmonious life, share their work and have a common or joint ownership of wealth and assets, they conform to the notion of a healthy and efficiently functioning family. In fact the highlight the best values upheld by a family conforming to the principle of CST which focuses on the community aspect. The lack of community aspect leads to individualism and selfishness. The S-11 is an exemplary family on this criterion.
The Catholic Social Teaching upholds private property against the state ownership. Since the S-11 family has purchased the house for their common use, the state has no business to intervene and forfeit what legitimately belongs to them. The property they purchased is their private property and they cannot be alienated from what rightfully belongs to them. St Thomas Aquinas considers private property essential to human flourishing.
The S-11 family true to the Christian teaching is seen to promote common good. If that was not so, they would not have come together to live as a family in the first place. Under normal circumstance, most people are selfish and cannot think beyond self and their immediate nuclear family. However, the members of S-11 are exemplary and exceptional because they have gone beyond the narrow self to forge a wider family in the most selfless manner, unlike business partnerships based on a set of conditions. As far as S-11 is concerned, they are seen to promote the common good of every member. Under the current difficult legal circumstances, they could have quite possibly broken apart but the fact that they have remained united in their fight demonstrates their preference for the promotion of common good. Finally, the role of the government should be to promote common good. They should be serving the people not dominating over them.
De La Torre, Vanessa. "Hartford Sues 'Scarborough 11' In Zoning Fight." Hartford Courant 24 Mar. 2015, Trials and Arbitration sec. Hartford Courant. Web. 16 July 2015. <http://www.courant.com/community/hartford/hc-hartford-scarborough-street-injunction-0325-20150324-story.html>.
De La Torre, Vanessa. "8 Adults, 3 Children, 1 House — And A Big Zoning Dispute In Hartford." Hartford Courant 14 Nov. 2014. Hartford Courant. Web. 16 July 2015. <http://www.courant.com/community/hartford/hc-hartford-scarborough-zoning-1121-20141120-story.html>.
De La Torre, Vanessa. "'Scarborough 11' File Federal Complaint Against Harford." Hartford Courant 25 Mar. 2015. Hartford Courant. Web. <http://www.courant.com/community/hartford/hc-hartford-scarborough-zoning-0326-20150325-story.html#page=1>.
Koczor, Christopher. "Seven Principles of Catholic Social Teaching." Catholic Answers Magazine 14 Apr. 2007, Volume 18 Number 4 ed. Web. 16 July 2015. <http://www.catholic.com/magazine/issues/volume-18-number-4>.