HARTFORD — From zoning to affordable housing and transit-oriented development, the state Legislature’s Planning and Development Committee’s plate was full last year, with several new endeavors and initiatives planned for the 2024 session, according to committee Co-Chair State Rep. Eleni Kavros DeGraw, D-Avon.
Kavros DeGraw, co-chairs the 21-member panel along with State Sen. MD Rahman, D-Manchester, said last year’s session was a mixed bag. Bills addressing blight ordinances and increased fines for littering were signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont, but others like the Work Live Ride Act, which dealt with transit-oriented development, failed to make it to the House floor.
Kavros DeGraw told CT Examiner on Thursday that she’s ready to get to work and will reintroduce several bills that passed committee but failed to get to the governor’s desk, while also introducing new legislation to address the state’s ongoing housing shortage.
Fourteen of the 50 bills that were approved by the committee last year were signed into law by Lamont. The 2024 short session kicks off on Feb. 7.
Kavros DeGraw, who has been a legislator since 2021, said the lack of housing is the most pressing issue facing the committee. When the short session kicks off Feb. 7, she said she’ll propose bills related to workforce housing and another asking that “tiny shelters” be built on the property of places of worship for the homeless.
Unlike tiny houses, which have popped up in recent years as accessory dwelling units for the poor, tiny shelters would be specifically aimed at housing the homeless on church, synagogue and mosque properties, Kavros DeGraw said.
“About 1,000 people are living outside right now in our state, and about 4,000 are living in shelters,” Kavros DeGraw said. “The reason that our numbers are higher, we think, is because we do not have affordable housing.”
She said that many religious leaders in the state are on board with the idea.
Regarding the workforce housing bill, Kavros DeGraw said, “I don’t have a specific bill in mind right now, but we could accomplish this by having housing that helps our businesses stay here and also attract new businesses. I know the governor has this huge goal of getting more and more businesses into Connecticut, which I am completely on board with.”
Affordable workforce housing is housing priced specifically for people who work in certain areas, but otherwise couldn’t afford to live in those communities. This housing can include multifamily rentals, townhomes, condominiums and single-family homes.
“For instance, Electric Boat is looking to build a ton of housing because they have all of these employee shortages,”Kavros DeGraw said. “They really need to get more employees in, but they need their employees to live relatively local within a certain radius. You want to focus it to where the jobs are.”
Kavros DeGraw also discussed the state’s 8-30g statute, which allows developers to bypass local zoning rules if less than 10 percent of a town’s housing stock is state-designated affordable.
But some say the 10 percent figure is arbitrary.
“I don’t think it is [arbitrary],” Kavros DeGraw said. “I think at the time that it was put into place, it probably was the right number. But again, the challenge is that it has not gotten us to where we need to go. So at some point, it probably does need to be reexamined.”
Kavros DeGraw added that the statute is not a one-size-fits-all solution and should be improved.
However, several town leaders and activists have expressed frustration over what they view as state overreach.
In Madison, for example, there was a rally in 2021 related to bills that would transfer local control of housing and zoning bills to Hartford.
Kavros DeGraw said she hasn’t heard of such cases since she became chair last year, but advised that they “reach out to our committee” if there are local control concerns.
On other issues, Kavros DeGraw said she’d support a grant program for communities looking to build affordable housing where there are no sewers or city water. That money, she said, would specifically pay for “connecting to other sewer systems or water systems, which can be really expensive.” Kavros DeGraw said such a proposal, however, might have to wait until the 2025 session.
“For us to grow as a state — and again, we have an aging state with one of the oldest populations in the country — we are going to only succeed as a state if we are attractive to young people, which means that housing has to be affordable because many of them are drowning in student debt,” she said. “So when it comes to being able to build, we have to take away as many barriers as there are to building affordable housing.”