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Advocates: ‘Fair Share’ law would increase affordable housing in CT

A few of the 18 new affordable housing units built by Greenwich at Armstrong Court.
A few of the 18 new affordable housing units built by Greenwich at Armstrong Court.

An approach to affordable housing that assigns each town a certain number of units to plan and zone for, based on the needs of its region, would help cut down on housing segregation in Connecticut, advocates said Thursday.

Under the proposed “Fair Share” law, the state Office of Policy and Management would assess the need for affordable housing in different parts of Connecticut. Then, towns would share the responsibility to meet that need.

The goal is to increase Connecticut’s affordable housing stock.

“Our broken housing system is the root of many of the problems we have with business and business growth,” said Sonya Jelks, Connecticut director at the Corporation for Supportive Housing and a city councilor in Meriden.

Under the measure, a town’s share would be based on its wealth, median income compared to other towns in the region, percentage of housing stock that’s multifamily housing and the poverty rate.

The methodology would need to be determined by July 1, 2024. OPM would also set measures to ensure towns comply with the requirement and offer ways to help them achieve the goal.

Towns would have to come up with plans by Jan. 1, 2025 and develop a new plan every 10 years after that. No locality would be expected to increase its housing stock by more than 20%, the bill states.

Opponents during Thursday’s public hearing said the bill imposes a one-size-fits-all solution on towns, puts undue burdens on certain areas to create more housing and ignores 2017 legislation that already requires towns to compose affordable housing plans, among other concerns.

The fair share bill is one of several bills focused on making housing more affordable and reforming zoning laws in Connecticut. Advocates, developers and state officials have said restrictive local zoning ordinances make it hard to build new homes, particularly multifamily housing.

Multifamily housing is typically less expensive. Housing is considered affordable if people are spending up to a third of their income on housing costs.

Connecticut lacks nearly 87,000 units of housing that are affordable and available to extremely low income renters, according to estimates from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Affordable housing has drawn more focus in recent years, both at the state level and nationally, as housing costs have risen.

Erin Boggs, executive director of Open Communities Alliance, told legislators there are three main reasons to pass the bill: the state’s “severe lack of affordable housing,” local zoning methods that have led to heightened segregation, and the economic harm created by the affordable housing deficit.

There aren’t enough homes for workers, and when people are spending more of their income on housing, they can’t build wealth and boost the local economy, Boggs explained.

The bill is a part of an initiative called Growing Together Connecticut that Boggs’ organization helped develop. The initiative includes about 30 partnering organizations.

Boggs added that the bill, if passed, puts towns in the “driver’s seat,” because they would be responsible for developing their own plans.

But some opponents have cited a lack of local control as one of the reasons they don’t support the bill.

Michael Criss, first selectman for Harwinton, said lack of existing water and sewage infrastructure had made it difficult to build more housing in his town. He added that rather than see a new bill passed, he wanted to observe the effects of 8-30j, which passed in 2017.

The law requires towns to approve affordable housing plans every five years. The first plan is due in July.

“There’s existing efforts and proven successful strategies out there,” Criss said. “We’re all trying to do our part to make it affordable to live within the state.”

Others said the bill language was too vague.

The Connecticut Realtors’ written testimony suggested completing the needs assessment before implementing action.

“Respectfully, CTR believes the language … attempts to implement the recommendations of the study before the study is completed,” the testimony states.

But advocates said the fair share model has been used with success in New Jersey.

New Jersey’s fair share policy was enacted because of a 1975 court decision. While there was a period of time where it wasn’t enforced, they’ve seen rapid development in recent years, said Alex Staropoli, director of advocacy and communications for the state’s Fair Share Housing Center.

As a result of the court decision, New Jersey has built more than 70,000 units of new housing, and 50,000 more are under construction, Staropoli said in an interview.

“It helps to level that playing field a little bit and really addresses segregation in our state,” Staropoli added.

Growing Together Connecticut estimates that the fair share bill could lead to the creation of up to 300,000 new units of housing and 80,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.

Roger Senserrich, communications director for Connecticut Working Families, said his organization supports the bill in part because it will help encourage economic opportunities in more diverse communities in Connecticut.

“We have built walls, using the zoning code and expensive housing, to exclude whole communities from economic opportunity. In the process, we have made our state entirely unaffordable not just for workers, but for businesses as well,” Senserrich said in written testimony. “It is time that we stop putting roadblocks and restrictions on housing — and get Connecticut moving forward again.”

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