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Over 50% of CT municipalities missed deadline to create affordable housing plans

Connecticut required towns to create plans on how they wanted to move the needle on affordable housing. That requirement, set in place five years ago, would allow municipalities to determine how they wanted to increase the housing inventory on their terms.

Municipalities had until June 1 to submit the plans. But as of deadline day, less than half of the towns statewide had complied.

“I think there’s widespread agreement now that in Connecticut, we have a real challenge around housing affordability across the state and all communities, for the most part,” said Melissa Kaplan-Macey, the vice president and Connecticut director with the Regional Plan Association. “And this really gives towns an opportunity to think hard and work hard to create a plan to address that.”

The nonprofit civic organization, located in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan area, collaborated with the Connecticut Department of Housing to create a guidebook for towns in the planning process.

The legislation took effect in 2017 and requires towns to adopt an affordable housing plan for the municipality at least once every five years. Upon implementation, the municipality is tasked with reviewing and maintaining the plan.

The deadline comes at a time when the state is facing a shortage of about 90,000 units for its lowest-income residents. And rents have skyrocketed by about 15% in the last year, according to the state comptroller’s office.

While some towns were proactive, others may have fallen short. Kaplan-Macey said resource constraints could have been a barrier to filing the plans on time.

“For smaller towns, where there isn’t a town planner on staff or where there isn’t funding, that could be a reason why it could be difficult,” Kaplan-Macey said.

The Department of Housing announced grant funding on a first-come, first-served basis in 2020 and 2021 to help some towns overcome financial obstacles. According to the DOH, 83 municipalities received a grant.

There is no penalty in the legislation for missing the deadline. Chris Collibee, a spokesperson from the Office of Policy and Management, said alongside the Department of Housing, the office will analyze results and determine appropriate next steps for the towns that missed the responsibility.

Kaplan-Macey said she hopes towns might just need more time, but it could also be a sign that Connecticut requires a different approach.

“In cases where you can incentivize, that’s the approach you want to take first. And in cases where folks are really going to continue to say ‘not in my backyard, not here, not in this community,’ I think an approach that is a little heavy-handed is necessary,” Kaplan-Macey said.

The momentum hinges on a conversation around state vs. local control, she said.

Zoning in Connecticut is under local control, but as the state continues to see an inventory crisis, some advocates have pushed for the state to have a stronger say in zoning and housing decisions.

Just this past legislative session, housing advocates pushed for a “fair share” bill, an effort to analyze how much affordable housing each town needs, and hold them responsible for filling the gap. The bill was not passed by the House of Representatives.

Kaplan-Macey said the process should be a mix of state and local control.

“There’s a lot of value to imagine statewide legislation as well, that helps to create a baseline of best practices around things like accessory dwelling units, or transit-oriented communities, other types of middle housing, to create some diversity of housing choice,” Kaplan-Macey said. “It’s essential for us to move forward to a more equitable Connecticut.”

Camila Vallejo is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. She is a bilingual reporter based out of Fairfield County and welcomes all story ideas at cvallejo@ctpublic.org.

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