CT Examiner asked 10 candidates in closely contested legislative races to share their thoughts on state’s affordable housing law, 8-30g.
The law allows developers to bypass most local zoning regulations to build housing projects where a portion of the units are restricted as “affordable,” but has led to fierce debates between advocates of local control of zoning and advocates of the state’s benchmark of 10 percent affordable housing in every town.
Candidates were asked, “Does 8-30g need to be repealed or amended, and if so, how?” Their answers are published in full below.
State Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford (12th State Senate District) – the incumbent
Addressing workforce and affordable housing in our communities is a complex issue that necessitates nuanced conversations to ensure we meet the needs of our neighbors while simultaneously protecting the environment and character of our communities. Currently within my district, 27 percent of the population falls under the ALICE threshold (Asset Limited, Income Restricted, Employed) – these are our neighbors who are struggling to make ends meet, especially because housing costs are so expensive. Ensuring more workforce and affordable housing is built is an important component for the vibrancy and health of our local communities.
Despite misconceptions, the 8-30g statute and process has been amended since it passed in late 1980s. Most recently in 2017, the legislature amended sections dealing with which types of units are considered as part of the town’s affordable housing stock and required the Department of Housing to add homes in “resident-owned mobile manufactured home parks” to the formula. The legislature should review whether 8-30g should be further amended to consider other naturally occurring affordable housing (i.e. smaller single-family units within our communities that already exist) and see if there’s a way to include those or a portion of those towards our affordable housing census.
Paul Crisci – Republican candidate for 12th State Senate District
First, we need to address how and why we got here. State government and our federal delegation have neglected existing multi-housing projects, or public housing. HUD funded buildings and apartments are in shambles with unreliable operations and elevators. This neglect in basic living requirements is an act of discrimination against all residents and endangers the lives, particularly of the elderly and disabled.
Rather than fix the existing housing crisis, the state is imposing on local municipalities and taking away their rights to develop within their own communities in accordance with standards set by local leaders and residents that actively participate on local zoning boards and commissions.
When municipalities no longer have control of their land, they lose the power to protect it, its environment, infrastructure, and the funding necessary to sustain operations. Local trust, not bureaucracy, makes the best decisions for local communities.
A more holistic solution is to fix public housing and restore the local tax deduction for property owners. This would allow towns to prioritize and fund local services and operations needed by its residents. It will provide public-school choices in all cities and towns, incentivize economic development, and job creation to support a diverse growing municipality.
Toni Boucher, Republican candidate for 26th State Senate District
8-30g allows developers to override any local planning and zoning decision if less than 10% of the community’s housing is affordable. 8-30g was passed before I ran for office. As a freshman legislator in the house, I was assigned to the Housing Committee where I learned firsthand how this statute was abused by many developers throughout Connecticut.
The law allowed for the construction of expensive apartment complexes with what some would describe as token affordable housing to meet state standards. In some communities, the overdevelopment created an insurmountable burden for both the transportation and education systems. Simply put, many schools could not absorb the increase in students now living in 8-30g housing complexes, and traffic became intolerable.
Unfortunately, any attempt to modify this statute was opposed and voted down by the democratic majority that had put this law in place to begin with. This year, the Democratic controlled legislature is trying to usurp local control over planning and zoning decisions with laws that mandate state control of housing within half-a-mile of any train station, and grant city housing authorities oversight of local town housing authorities.
Democrats were able to get these laws through committee but paused their efforts because it’s an election year and too many residents want state hands off their homes. However, there is deep concern that a future Democratic majority will resume their past efforts to have the state take more control over our housing decisions. They are concerned that they will change their communities forever. We should never forget that for most people the purchase of a home is their most significant financial investment over their lifetime. This rings true for me as well. Part of my drive to jump back in the race is to fix this governmental excess and return local control.
Ceci Maher, Democratic candidate for 26th State Senate District
When it comes to affordable housing, there’s no easy or short answer. Anyone who tells you they can repeal 8-30g without any viable replacement is either misleading you or misinformed. I believe we need to take a collaborative approach that brings together state and local governments to create smart solutions that diversify housing and make sense for municipalities.
Strong economic growth is supported by housing opportunities for Connecticut residents. We need to look at how we can help towns plan for a future that allows for business development, creating a strong economy, and providing housing diversity for the people who want to return or remain in our state.
Anyone can turn complex issues into political stunts and empty campaign promises. It takes a forward-thinking, competent leader to actually solve problems.
Martha Marx, Democratic candidate for 20th State Senate District
Martha Marx believes that if you work in a town and you want to live there, you should be able to. This includes, among many others, our child care workers, our homecare aids, our young teachers and seniors on a fixed income.
We first need to adjust the equation for affordable housing because in many towns these workers salaries cannot support even “affordable” housing. Once the equation has been updated, Martha would like to work with her municipalities to discuss how to create workforce housing in each community; this would most likely necessitate an amendment to 8-30g.
We currently have a workforce shortage in CT and much of this shortage is the result of skyrocketing housing costs. We must address this immediately and cannot let the market “play itself out.” Living where you work also saves on transportation costs and is much cleaner for our environment. The savings in transportation costs alone can significantly increase a family’s income. In addition, when you live where you work, you are invested in your community and you contribute to your community. People should be able to live where they work and Martha wants to make that possible.
Jerry Labriola Jr., Republican candidate for 20th State Senate District
8-30g was intended to make housing more equitable and affordable for residents and I wholeheartedly support that intent. Housing is important to our district. We have many many young people who are teachers, first responders, manufacturers moving to our district and we have seniors who need a home. We want to make sure they can afford to live in our district.
I think that the state should partner with towns and developers to locate housing in the best possible place. I believe that this 30 year old legislation had good intent and worked for some communities but does not work for all and should be updated.
State Rep. Kimberly Fiorello, R-Greenwich (149th State House District)
8-30g must be amended in two major ways: (1) it must be recast as a law with incentives for towns, not as an eternal cudgel for developers to use against towns that will always struggle to meet the 10% requirement; and (2) it must include calculations of natural-occurring lower-than-market-rate housing so we have a complete and honest picture of housing diversity. Having good data is essential for good policy.
How to do this? 8-30g should include an incentive/reward for landlords to offer units with lower-than-market-rates. If they register their units with the town and commit to lower-than-market-rates, they can get an income tax cut, at the same time the town gets a unit that qualifies towards 8-30g. Another idea is to incentivize towns by giving them more 8-30g points if they promote rehabilitation assistance for the elderly, so those on fixed incomes can stay in their homes, which are well-maintained against major events like septic failures or new roofing needs. Affordable homes that receive rehab assistance qualify towards 8-30g, but few towns offer this program because it adds program costs and administrative costs. Doing nothing and letting 8-30g stand as is is not an option.
Rachel Khanna, Democratic candidate for the 149th State House District
Additional housing in Connecticut is both a moral and economic imperative. People deserve a place to live and call home. We cannot sustain and grow our economy if we can’t house our workforce.
In Greenwich, our school bus company can’t hire enough drivers. Both the Stamford and Greenwich police departments cite lack of housing as an obstacle to recruiting officers.
After more than thirty years, 8-30g has not produced the desired results. That’s in part because its one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t account for the fact that every community is different—in density, access to mass transit, and developable property.
I believe our local municipalities should be making decisions about local solutions to our housing needs.
As such, the best way to meet our local housing needs while protecting ourselves from 8-30g-backed development is to build more affordable housing on our own terms. The affordable housing plans Greenwich and Stamford submitted to the state are a good first step.
We need a state representative who works productively in Hartford to balance the need for more workforce housing with the desire of local governments to have autonomy over their own zoning decisions.
State Rep. John-Michael Parker, D-Madison (101st State House District) – the incumbent
The intention behind 8-30g—that all towns provide adequate access to affordable housing—is critically important if we want to ensure that in Madison and Durham young families can buy their first homes, working people can afford to raise their kids, and seniors can retire and stay in the community they love.
But I’m not sure this policy is as successful as we need it to be, with the vast majority of towns (including ours) falling far below the target of 10% affordable housing, and too many—especially seniors and those on fixed incomes—not being able to find housing that’s affordable for them. It’s an issue I hear too often from constituents.
Furthermore, I’m concerned that, in practice, we may not be adequately considering “substantial public interests in health, safety or other matters” in all cases. We must ensure that local officials have sufficient input into decisions about affordable housing projects so we can actually make meaningful progress toward our shared goals.
As with so many laws, I believe there is room for improvement, and look forward to working with advocates, municipal officials, and housing experts on making sure 8-30g effectively and efficiently moves us toward critical affordable housing.
John Rasimas — Republican candidate for 101st State House District
I am all for affordable housing but believe there are better ways to reach the goals that we want to meet. To have a system that bypasses local control is dangerous, and has unintended consequences. It is truly used as a bargaining chip by developers rather than as a tool to effectively expand the pool of affordable housing.
CHFA and downpayment assistance type programs work, and we should look to expand those types of programs. Most people are not aware that CHFA finances multi-unit housing beyond the first time homebuyer programs that it is typically known for. I also have concerns that 8-30g has targeted goals that are simply not realistic and that there are no compensating factors for communities that do not have an economical option to bring sewer systems in.