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‘Zoning for Equity’ report by local nonprofit finds barriers persist in building affordable housing

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Significant barriers to housing options for low to moderate income families with children persist in Connecticut, according to findings from a new “Zoning for Equity: Examining Planning and Zoning Impediments to Housing and School Diversity” report.

The federally-funded report from Open Communities Alliance, looked into the zoning and planning of 12, mostly white and wealthier than average towns including East Lyme, Farmington, Gilford, Monroe, New Canaan, North Branford, Old Saybrook, Shelton, Simsbury, Stonington, Wallingford and Weston.

“One surprise is the extent to which towns are explicit about their interest in keeping out moderate and low-income families by limiting where housing that’s more affordable can be located,” said Erin Boggs, executive director of the Alliance, a nonprofit.

The towns were selected on the basis of “the high level of existing economic and racial segregation,” said Sam Giffin, policy and data analyst at the Alliance.

The intention of the towns – the report surmises, is to possibly limit housing for lower income families with children to restrict enrollment numbers at public schools. One way the towns do this is by requiring special permission to build multifamily housing – more than two units per structure. Where possible, non age-restricted multifamily housing is primarily located in non-residential areas.

“The town planning and zoning regulations of these twelve towns regularly treated multifamily housing as the pariah of housing types – categorically distinguished, kept separate from, and routinely given second-class status relative to, the single-family housing that planning and zoning treats as the full extent of “residential” uses,” — the report states – in contradiction to federal, state and land use laws and the state Constitution.

The recommended policy solution is the passage of the Fair Share bill, which faces stiff opposition over potential construction mandates.

“With the vague language of the bill, the magnitude of the new construction mandate to be imposed on all towns in the state is unknown. This is because the formula or methodology won’t be set up until after the bill is passed into law,” Alexis Harrison, a member of the Fairfield Town Planning and Zoning Commission, wrote in a CT Mirror opinion piece. “In reality, none of us would sign a document where the details are left open for someone not selected by us to determine. We need the formula and calculation now, not left open for future determination.”

But Boggs said “it’s a process which the town is in control of in terms of figuring out how to get to their Fair Share goal.”

The report pointed to the Fair Share system’s outcome in New Jersey, which is 70,000 units of affordable housing construction. The Alliance estimates that if a Fair Share system were adopted in Connecticut similar to the housing in New Jersey, in ten years, Connecticut would reap “tens of billions of dollars in income for Connecticut residents, tens of billions of dollars in state and local tax revenue, and tens of thousands of jobs.”