To the Editor:
Across the state towns like Trumbull and Shelton have passed housing moratoriums, pausing applications for new apartments. But whether it’s concerns about traffic, parking, or schools, these extraordinary actions are never adequately justified. Multifamily moratoriums—and the restrictive zoning regimes that undergird them—are bad for local economies, exacerbate the state’s housing crisis, and should be ended immediately.
The reasons offered by Trumbull and Shelton for their multifamily housing moratoria don’t hold up under scrutiny. In Shelton, the stated issue is traffic and parking.Traffic and parking may be a real problem in downtown Shelton (especially at “peak” moments), but instead of pausing all new homes outside of its downtown, Shelton should take this chance to invest in infrastructure that will get people out of cars, such as bike lanes or better bus service.
In my hometown of Trumbull, the major argument in favor of the original 2019 multifamily moratorium was to pause development and see if the new apartments would “overwhelm” the schools—one of the same reasons used to extend it a fourth time this January. But this is nonsensical on multiple fronts: first, a 2021 Town Council report found that instead of school enrollments overwhelming the budget, each of the new apartment complexes was generating roughly $1 million in tax revenue. Second, during the January 18th meeting the Planning and Zoning Committee admitted that it hadn’t used 2022 to conduct any new studies, yet still renewed the moratorium for a fourth time—supposedly to once again study the impacts on the town.
Trumbull and Shelton are two growing, dynamic places, and the new apartments are adding to their tax base and helping their local businesses. They shouldn’t let fear-mongering about apartments stop that progress.
The myth that apartments—and the people that live in them—damage towns and neighborhoods is nothing new, and its intellectual foundation goes all the way back to the 1926 Supreme Court case Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co, which legalized our current zoning regime. Writing for the six vote majority, Justice George Sutherland stated that:
…very often the apartment house is a mere parasite, constructed in order to take advantage of the open spaces and attractive surroundings created by the residential character of the district. Moreover, the coming of one apartment house is followed by others…until, finally, the residential character of the neighborhood and its desirability as a place of detached residences are utterly destroyed.
These were reactionary sentiments, totally unsupported by evidence, and the Supreme Court justified them by saying that “with the growth and development of the state the police power necessarily develops, within reasonable bounds, to meet the changing conditions.” It’s time to admit that Euclid is bad law and that using the state’s police power to block people from building granny flats, duplexes, or apartment buildings is a terrible idea.
“Multifamily moratorium” is a technical, cold-sounding term, so I think we should call it what it is: a new families moratorium. Apartments are homes: homes where young couples start a life together, homes where our parents age-in-place, and homes that match the flexibility needed by real people. Pausing new homes means pausing the opportunities for families to build a thriving life in our state.
I don’t want to be too harsh to Trumbull or Shelton; after all, the reason they’re passing multifamily moratoriums is that they’ve actually allowed new homes to be built. On the opposite end of the spectrum are towns like New Canaan, Darien, and Greenwich, where the entire zoning code is a de facto multifamily moratorium. These towns, not content with apartment bans, also want to eliminate the state’s affordable housing law 8-30g.
Ultimately, my arguments against housing moratoria and restrictive zoning are straightforward. Connecticut has a housing shortage and a related housing affordability crisis. People want to live in Connecticut (especially in my home region of Fairfield County), and the state’s planning and zoning commissions have taken the extraordinary step of using their police power to block landowners from responding to that demand.
End multifamily moratoriums, end restrictive zoning, and welcome as many new neighbors and families to our state as want to come. We’ll all be better off for it.