State lawmakers abandon controversial affordable housing quotas

State lawmakers abandoned a controversial plan to address the crisis by imposing “fair share” affordable housing quotas on towns.

John Craven

Jun 2, 2023, 10:13 PM

Updated 321 days ago

Share:

It's nearly impossible to find an affordable home in Connecticut. But Friday, state lawmakers abandoned a controversial plan to address the crisis by imposing "fair share" affordable housing quotas on towns.

HOUSING CRISIS

The crisis is especially severe in Fairfield County, where homes routinely sell for $1 million or more.
"It's a struggle," said Mara Skowronek, of Shelton. "Even like, condos, apartments. You know, things that seem affordable."
In his budget address in February, Gov. Ned Lamont said the state can't attract enough workers because they can't afford to live here.
"Having just climbed out of a fiscal crisis, I don't want to fall into a housing crisis," he said.

"FAIR SHARE" QUOTAS?

After months of negotiations, Democrats unveiled a sweeping plan to address the housing shortage Thursday afternoon. But less than 24 hours later, they dropped the proposal after fierce opposition from suburban lawmakers.
"It was going to be short of votes," said state Rep. Jason Rojas (D-East Hartford), the Connecticut House Majority Leader and a housing advocate. "And quite frankly, you know, it had gotten to the point where even I was unhappy with how far we had to compromise on it."
The bill would have imposed "fair share" housing quotas on most communities, using a mix of incentives and penalties to force towns to comply – including lawsuits. The policy has been used in New Jersey since the 1970s.
Early Saturday morning, House members narrowly approved a stripped-down version of the legislation, which was attached to an unrelated bill. It still contains "fair share" goals, but no mandates or penalties for towns.
Still, opponents accused Rojas and top Democrats of backtracking in the middle of the night.
"That ["fair share"] number is going to be acted upon," said state Rep. Tony Scott (R-Monroe), the top Republican on the legislature's Housing Committee. "That is very clear."
Housing advocates blasted groups that defeated "fair share."
"You are holding back our economy, and for continuing to make Connecticut an unaffordable place to live for young people starting their first jobs, for middle-class workers who don't make a ton of money, and for seniors who desperately want to stay in the communities they've lived in their entire lives," said Erin Boggs, with Open Alliance Communities.
But opponents like CT169Strong said the bill would flood the market with luxury "market-rate" apartments and damage the environment.
"The bill specifically targets undeveloped land by mandating that all municipalities conduct a 'Review of the definition of buildable land and the elimination or reduction of requirements that limit its availability,'" said real estate attorney Kathy Braun. "The bill ignores the economic and environmental value to preserving undeveloped land. Open space provides for the cleansing and recharge of water, and development has an adverse impact on water quality."
Even those who agree with building new housing wonder if the approach is too heavy-handed.
"I think a push like that is not a bad idea," said Skowronek. "I don't know if that's the way to go about it – by kind of, like, threatening towns almost."

"WE NEED TO MAKE ROOM FOR FOLKS"

Housing groups said something has to give because many communities throw up too many zoning roadblocks.
"We need to make room for folks," said Sean Ghio with Partnership for Strong Communities. "Not just new folks moving in, but their own children – in fact, their own parents that would like to stay in town, but don't need a big, single-family home."
Although wealthy towns like New Canaan have built affordable housing units, private developers said they're often shut out.
"Minimum lot size requirements, setback requirements, and other kinds of exclusionary zoning that require the builder to basically build a larger lawn," Robert Dietz, an economist with the National Association of Home Builders, recently told lawmakers. For example, New Canaan's housing authority just finished Canaan Parish, a glistening affordable housing complex where Section 8 tenants pay as little as $250 per month. But the town's Planning and Zoning Commission recently rejected a plan to build 20 apartments behind a downtown home because it would interfere with the "consistent rhythm and coherence of the streetscape within the historic district." Officials also raised concerns about the project's height.

DO FORCED MANDATES WORK?

Right now, Connecticut's main affordable housing law is called "8-30g." It lets developers sue for the right to bypass zoning laws, in towns with less than 10% affordable housing. But Republican leaders said forced zoning doesn't work.
"Everybody knows, 8-30g – in the 50 years – has not led to affordable housing," said state Rep. Vin Candelora (R-North Branford), the House GOP leader. "It has been a builder's dream to force housing into communities."
Lawmakers are still pursuing incentives to build around train stations, but even that has some people worried.
"It's very overcrowded," said Ali Papageorge of Trumbull. "The traffic is horrific, and it's getting worse."
Whatever happens, the clock is ticking. The legislative session ends next Wednesday, and lawmakers still have to pass a new state budget.


More from News 12