HARTFORD — “Fair Share” was dropped from the omnibus housing bill in the House on Friday, but was returned as a study in the wee hours of Saturday morning tacked onto a bill allowing conservation easements.
Lawmakers in both parties have questioned the formula, devised by Open Communities Alliance, that calculates each town’s need for additional affordable housing based on median income, poverty, multi-family housing stock and grand list.
In Friday night’s House session, State Rep. Geoff Luxenberg, D-Manchester, co-chair of the Housing Committee, said the study would still assess each town’s “Fair Share” of affordable housing, but for informational purposes only.
“This is aspirational goal-setting,” Luxenberg said.
But State Rep. Tony Scott, R-Monroe, questioned what would be done with the data, warning that the study was the first step toward passing the larger plan.
“If it’s aspirational, there’s no action to it, then why do we need it? Because there will be something done with those numbers– that’s the clear answer,” Scott said. “Everyone needs to understand – there will be a number assigned to your town, your district, your municipality, and that number will be acted upon. That is going to be very clear. Not part of this legislation, I understand, but it’s the first step towards that.”
State. Rep. Steve Weir, R-Hebron, questioned why the bill, SB-998, “An Act Establishing a Tax Abatement for Certain Conservation Easements, including the unrelated measure.
“I don’t understand how these two are just jammed in together,” he said.
Weir also questioned the lack of attention to underlying infrastructure under Fair Share.
“If we were serious about tackling affordable housing, this body would get together and come up with a way to fund grants, low interest loans, incentives for communities to invest in the infrastructure that’s needed. And I almost guarantee that the developers would line up to build — and certainly the towns would line up — to offer their communities to affordable housing.”
State Rep. Tom O’Dea, R-New Canaan, warned that the large number of housing units required under Fair Share would in the end dissuade towns from committing to more affordable housing. According to O’Dea, his town is already 99 percent developed with about 7,500 housing units, but that Fair Share would add another 1,776 affordable units.
O’Dea said that at a $1 million per acre in New Canaan, developers come in and threaten 8-30g projects of 50 or 100 units to negotiate down to a smaller number without affordable units.
“We need a carrot, not a stick. Help us financially. And don’t scare us with these kinds of numbers. It’s gonna have a negative reaction. It’s going to push people away from doing what we all need to know we need to do,” said O’Dea.
Reached by phone on Sunday night, Erin Boggs, executive director of Open Communities Alliance, who released a statement on the demise of the Fair Share on Friday afternoon, said that the renegotiated numbers in the last version of the Fair Share bill would instead have required New Canaan to develop 675 units over 20 years, or about 34 units a year.
“That is a totally reasonable number for a place like New Canaan,” Boggs said. “That just means that over time, as redevelopment happens, as it always does, that there would be an opportunity for developers who may want to do, for example, mixed use along commercial corridors in New Canaan – to put in something that is actually more attractive than what’s there right now includes a commercial use and above it includes mixed income housing.”
Boggs said it was critical that state legislators acknowledge that the state is in an affordable housing crisis. She said her organization was in “year three of a multi-year effort to bring about transformative change that will result in economic transformation and improvement in the state along with creating more affordable housing,” and that there is “much, much more to be done.”
“We will make effective use of this to move the ball forward both in terms of statewide policy and advocacy within towns but ultimately, it is at a certain level shocking that the state legislature has not done more than this this year,” she said.
Together with a study of Fair Share, the bill included a range of items allowing towns to abate property taxes for portions of privately-owned land under conservation easement as a recreational trail; increasing fines against landlords for sanitation and safety violations; limiting rental application fees; and establishing incentives for developing affordable housing.