As a group dedicated to informing residents of the 169 municipalities in Connecticut, CT169Strong strongly disagrees with the findings of a new study from the Open Communities Alliance (OCA). Connecticut already has a commission evaluating housing concerns, so one should ask why OCA is indulging in such efforts? Instead of participating in substantive conversation in a responsible way, developers and housing activists continue to stoke division rather than addressing the legitimate concerns of local communities throughout Connecticut.
At a high level, individuals make numerous cost-based decisions all the time. These financial decisions include tradeoffs, that are, for most, made in the context of constraints driven by their unique personal income and asset situation. Housing choices are no different. Realistically, affordable units in high-cost communities do not make such communities themselves more “affordable.” Residents often decide to travel to nearby towns to purchase cheaper gas, food, clothing, etc. Towns that lack the additional supports or affordable and frequent local public transit create further challenges.
It is very concerning that multiple, closely affiliated housing advocacy groups like Desegregate CT, Regional Plan Association and OCA focus on promoting “one size fits all”, state mandated policies that encourage the building of mostly high density, market value residential apartments in downtowns, instead of creating “affordability.” If passed, the proposed HB 5204 (Fair Share bill) and HB 5429, (Desegregate CT transit bill) will turn every suburban downtown into a small city, regardless of impact on infrastructure, environment, historical areas, and availability of jobs. There is no consideration that doubling housing stock with high rise apartments in downtowns will potentially create greater congestion, water runoff and traffic, and residents still require cars to get around. “Build it and they will come” is a fool-hardy strategy.
One municipality that OCA targets is New Canaan and suggests with a very limited band of statistics that it is an example of why “fair share” should be mandated for all of Connecticut. OCA neglects to mention that the town of New Canaan started its own affordable housing fund decades ago to support the development of affordable housing. This seed fund helped New Canaan earn its first four-year moratorium to Connecticut’s 8-30g development statute, but you will not find New Canaan in the OCA report as a best practice model for other communities as it does not serve the narrative. Further, in 2018, Governor Lamont’s removed seed funding for New Canaan’s affordable housing development, which delayed the creation of more units in New Canaan. Governor Lamont’s “debt diet” in 2018, froze the expected state seed funding of New Canaan’s shovel ready,100-unit all affordable housing development at Canaan. Six months later, the state completely removed funding for New Canaan’s project. This delayed development while New Canaan searched for alternative funding sources to start the project.
The state provides seed funding for affordable housing, but rarely for developments in suburban Fairfield County. Lamont’s April 2021 press release shows that over 50% of the $49MM in recent state funding went to Hartford, New Haven and Waterbury, which already have 10% affordable housing within their municipalities. Such funding policies create unintended consequences and a concentration of poverty in Connecticut. Fairfield County’s barriers to development of affordable housing and the significantly higher development and land costs should not be ignored. Ineffective state public policy must be addressed first before creating ineffective one size fits all solutions that do not address the unique circumstances of every municipality and do not create affordability.
Effective public policy must bring all stakeholders to the table, not just the numerous affiliated and sometimes builder-funded housing advocacy groups, to create workable, effective solutions that take into account the barriers to development of affordable housing: cost, scarcity of land, lack of true local public transit to neighboring communities, employment opportunities, infrastructure limitations, etc. Further, a parallel plan should be focused on reinvigorating cities, like Hartford, that have existing infrastructure and local public transit, but are seeing population declines.
We urge Connecticut residents to contact all legislators and Governor Lamont to vote no on ineffective state mandated zoning legislation, including HB5429 and HB5204, that do not effectively address affordability in Connecticut. Land is finite and unique, and if residents do nothing or continue with the status quo, these bills will permanently change the landscape of Connecticut. Further with state elections coming in November, Connecticut residents must demand better from legislative leaders and vote for legislators that will work collaboratively to enact real, workable solutions.
Alexis Harrison, Fairfield
Peter McGuinness, Darien
Tara Restieri, Greenwich
Maria Weingarten, New Canaan
Harrison, McGuinness, Restieri and Weingarten are members of