The Passage of Fair Share Phase 1 and What it Means for Connecticut Residents

Image Credit: Robin Breeding

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Despite bipartisan opposition, a majority of the Connecticut House and Senate passed SB-998, a bill that brings the “Fair Share” Housing Model to Connecticut. Fair Share is a controversial legislative initiative that uses a complicated formula to impose mandatory housing development quotas on almost every town and city in the state. Phase 1 starts the Fair Share process by establishing the number of affordable housing units to be built statewide, and then devising a formula to allocate that quantity among regions and municipalities within each region.   

Although certain legislators have justified their “yes” vote by claiming “there is a lot of good” in SB-998, most state residents, once they comprehend the full impact of Fair Share, would likely disagree. There was overwhelming public opposition to Fair Share, and for good reason. The fact that 70 pages were inserted at the last minute into an otherwise acceptable one-subject bill promoting open space preservation, does not justify voting “yes” on SB-998. The harm of Fair Share vastly outweighs any positive aspects of this bill.

SB998 Fair Share Phase 1 requires the Secretary of the Office of Policy Management, an unelected state official, with the assistance of a panel of advisors drawn from the housing development and housing advocacy sector, to first define what the total number of new affordable housing units must be built in Connecticut. Notably, environmental and municipal stakeholders, advocates and experts are excluded from this high-level advisory group. Once the statewide figure has been decided on, the same group will devise a formula and methodology to allocate a “Fair Share” quota to each municipality with the exception of seven cities with 20% or more poverty.

What can residents expect now? Open Communities Alliance (OCA), a housing advocacy group and proponent of  the Fair Share bill, has offered its calculation of the total number of affordable units that it claims our state must build. OCA has also published a formula of the ‘fair share allocation’ for each municipality which was created by a Princeton academic in 2021. OCA, which drafted the Fair Share bill, now expects the state of Connecticut to adopt its methodology and formula. The executive director of OCA sent a letter to our state senators prior to passage of SB-998 urging them to go ahead and to use the OCA fair share numbers. The methodology and calculated numbers are the same as those OCA provided in the prior two legislative sessions that failed to even get out of committee. It was widely felt that the methodology was reckless and the numbers were onerous, excessive, and completely unworkable.

What’s your home town’s fair share per OCA? See CT169Strong’s worksheet that shows OCA’s Fair Shares and our calculated future impacts, both financial and the percentage growth in housing units: https://tinyurl.com/CT169FairShare . 

Per the bill, a state bureaucrat sets the methodology, yet the language within the bill contains OCA’s identical and very specific allocation methodology. This methodology is based solely on each municipality’s percent of multifamily housing, percent of poverty, average income and their grand list, to devise the mandatory number of new affordable units that towns must build, up to a maximum of 20% of current housing stock. This methodology does not consider relevant local factors, capacities or constraints, and has no funding for the severe budgetary impact it would impose on towns and cities. To read more what is wrong with Fair Share, Phase 1, why it is not ‘just a study’ as has been claimed, review supporting documentation, and see the votes of House and Senate members, visit: https://bit.ly/SB998FairShare

Legislators who voted yes and passed SB998 with Fair Share Phase 1, legitimized the unworkable allocation methodology of OCA. One State Senator referred to a recent Transit Oriented Development law passed in Massachusetts, and provided a quote from a local official there. The Massachusetts MBTA bill was a much more thoughtful and comprehensive bill, focused on mixed use development in the transit towns that lead to Boston, a much larger city in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts bill is not comparable to the “Frankenstein bill” passed in Connecticut. The Massachusetts bill created a threshold of 15% multi-family for the suburban transit towns. In comparison, ninety of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities already have over 15% multifamily. 

Connecticut is the third smallest state as well as the fourth most densely populated. The high-density market value rental development being pushed by housing advocates will double the housing stock of most communities, turning towns into small cities. OCA’s onerous density mandates do not consider the environmental impacts on our reservoirs, watershed, coastal and inland wetlands. In addition, the state’s historically inadequate investment in maintenance and  infrastructure, such as highways, mass transit, electrical grid capacity, in-state power generation, in-state waste management, failing sewer systems and schools does not support such overdevelopment. Exponential development without thoughtful strategic planning is the worst possible outcome for our state. It results in the misallocation of finite land and limited financial and natural resources, degrading what has attracted so many residents to our 169 charming and unique cities, suburbs and rural communities.   

Residents should name it the Un-Fair Share bill. Democrat leaders ignored their own process rules, misled their own Democrat caucus by stating it was “just a study” and thereby legitimized a completely unworkable allocation methodology when SB998 was passed in the House in the dead of night – 2 a.m. on a Saturday morning. 

This bill is the first phase of a scheme that will impose the largest unfunded mandate on 162 Connecticut municipalities when Phase 2 is proposed next session. Once the mandates are passed, Connecticut will be on its way to being assessed the highest in local property taxes in the nation, ahead of New Jersey, ironically the only other state in 40 years that has adopted Fair Share. Fair Share is costly, resulting in unending litigation in New Jersey and will not improve affordability in Connecticut. 

Poor process and bad policy alone should have stopped this bill, which was passed in questionable circumstances after being added to an open space bill in a late-night session, and violation of rules of procedure.

It is always the right time to do the right thing, and SB998 was not right or just in how it was passed or how it will work. That being said, the harm can still be corrected.

Sincerely,

Alexis Harrison, Fairfield, CT

Maria Weingarten, New Canaan, CT

Harrison and Weingarten are the co-founders of CT169Strong