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Housing issues affect everyone in Connecticut, from those who are searching for a safe place to live, to those who may find it increasingly difficult to afford a place they already call home.WNPR is covering Connecticut's housing and homelessness issues in a series that examines how residents are handling the challenges they face. We look at the trends that matter most right now, and tell stories that help bring the issues to light.

Woodbridge Becomes A Test Case For Advocates Of Affordable Housing

A blueprint from application for the four-unit, multi family house currently under review by the Woodbridge Planning and Zoning Commision.
A blueprint from the application for a four-unit multifamily house under review by the Woodbridge Planning and Zoning Commision.

Developer AA Denorfia Building & Development wants to bring more affordable housing to Woodbridge. Its application has the backing of Open Communities Alliance, a nonprofit that works on housing equity, and the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School. But the proposal also has drawn opposition, dominating the town’s planning and zoning meetings for the last two months.

The problem: The town’s zoning regulations need to be changed to allow for the four-unit multifamily house. The solution -- according to Open Communities Alliance -- is changing those regulations, which would then create more opportunities for affordable housing in Woodbridge. For OCA, this represents a test case in the town.

On Tuesday, residents who object to the proposal brought their concerns to the planning and zoning commission. 

“We are not opposed to affordable housing,” said Timothy Herbst, a former gubernatorial candidate and lawyer who represents a group of residents opposed to the project. “We believe that the town needs to come up with a better plan to address this issue.”

He brought in testimony from Brian Miller, a local planning consultant. Miller contends that various elements of the proposal were not thought out and that the plan “picks on Woodbridge.”

“The whole issue of affordable housing -- to think that it could be dealt with on a municipal level of 169 communities within the state is just ludicrous,” Miller said. “So to say ‘Woodbridge needs this’ is kind of disingenuous, I think. I think it’s more logical saying ‘the south-central Connecticut region has an anticipated need [for affordable housing] of X number.’”

Still, towns must shoulder some of the regional onus, according to Erin Boggs, executive director of Open Communities Alliance.

“It’s not like town planning and zoning commissions have free rein to do whatever they wish,” Boggs told Connecticut Public in an interview. “Under the state law, there are very specific requirements about helping to meet the regional need for affordable housing.”

OCA has argued that Woodbridge has a long history crafting zoning regulations to exclude affordable housing. The organization compiled a report that found past attempts to change zoning laws were met with resistance from residents, who sometimes characterized affordable-housing residents as a threat to property values, the school system or quality of life in Woodbridge.

Without action on the zoning laws, OCA says one option would be to file a housing discrimination lawsuit against the town of Woodbridge.

Ali Oshinskie is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Ali covers the Naugatuck River Valley for Connecticut Public Radio. Email her at aoshinskie@ctpublic.org and follow her on Twitter at @ahleeoh.

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