To the Editor:
Connecticut’s media is full of stories about exclusionary planning commissions denying or delaying housing developments. But while these stories often quote people opposed to a project, they rarely discuss the consequences for our fellow residents. We need to focus on the human cost of all that denied housing and realize that each home that’s never built is a loss for the state and the families that would have made lives here.
2023 has not been a banner year for housing abundance in Connecticut. During the long legislative session, the two major housing proposals— Fair Share and Work Live Ride— did not pass (though the General Assembly did approve some parts).
Towns, meanwhile, seem more determined than ever to show what a sham “local control” really is. In Bethel, the Planning and Zoning Commission denied an application because it felt that “fugitive dust” from a nearby property posed too great a health concern to future residents (though this concern only came up after it became an 8-30g application). New Canaan, meanwhile, bucked the growing push for single staircase reform and rejected a project because it didn’t have a third staircase. And in Enfield, the town council prioritized storage for cars instead of housing for people, whittling a plan for 123 homes and 56 parking spaces to only 70 homes and 76 parking spaces.
All of these decisions help contribute to Connecticut’s housing shortage. Only 6,496 homes were permitted last year, approximately 1/4 the pace of the 1980s (when Connecticut’s population was 14% smaller). What’s more, by one estimate towns blocked at least 1,900 homes in 2022 and are up to 1,755 this year—nevermind the homes that aren’t proposed at all because of restrictive zoning and recalcitrant planning boards.
Unfortunately, most news coverage follows a familiar pattern: a headline will label a project “controversial” and quote 1-2 residents who make unsubstantiated claims about how new homes will destroy their neighborhood. But one voice is absent in almost every article: the families that would one day call those places home. Obviously, we can’t interview hypothetical future residents, but we can focus on what’s lost when housing is blocked.
Some consequences are impossible to convey. We’ll never know the friendships that aren’t formed, the memories that are never made, or the careers and businesses that don’t take off because people couldn’t move to the area of their choice. But we can employ some tools to help describe the stakes when housing is delayed, denied, or decreased. Using Harvard University’s Opportunity Atlas, we could talk about the life outcomes for children who grow up in the neighborhood where homes are proposed. For example, children who grow up near Weed Street in New Canaan—the site of multiple rejected homes—have life outcomes in the 95th percentile of the United States, including strong incomes and low incarceration rates. Similarly, we could use Census Bureau data to describe how many jobs are within a 15 mile radius of proposed homes to capture the economic prospects someone could have had living there.
Whatever the means, we need to call out what’s being lost when homes are rejected. Every time a home is blocked—or never gets the chance to be proposed at all—a little bit of potential is sapped from our state, and a young couple or family never gets the chance to plant roots. These are our friends and families losing out on the opportunities our parents and grandparents had. How are new generations supposed to achieve their American Dream in the face of such radical, reactionary intransigence from the very people charged with planning for the future?
I don’t think buying your own home and achieving the American Dream gives you the right to block others from achieving theirs, but a vocal contingent of my fellow Nutmeggers seem to be trying. Connecticut is a great place, and I think people should be able to move here and make a life in the place and type of home they’d prefer. There’s a human cost to all this denied housing, and it’s well past time we call it out and push for a better, more housing-abundant future.