Negating Local Zoning Won’t Solve the High Cost of Renting and Buying

Credit: Robin Breeding

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To the Editor:

A recent story on the debate in the public hearing on Senate Bill 6 repeated without attribution the trope that: “Connecticut lacks about 92,500 units of housing that are affordable and available for its lowest income renters.”  The story quotes Kara Capone, chief executive officer at Community Housing Advocates: ““We’re never going to solve homelessness until we create more housing … What we have right now is a supply and demand issue. There’s simply not enough supply to go around. There certainly isn’t enough affordable supply to go around.”

According to US Housing and Urban Development (HUD) annual reports to Congress of Point-in-Time (PIT), in 2023 Connecticut had a homeless population of 3,015, down 30.1% since 2010.  Certainly, housing advocates are not proposing to build 92,500 affordable units to solve a homeless problem of 3,015 people.

Clearly, all of the other low-income households have shelter but are largely considered cost-burdened, that is they pay more than 30% of their income for shelter.  So, the problem is not a paucity of housing units but the cost of renting or owning those units, which is as much a factor of income as it is of cost, not simply supply.

The so-called housing advocates seek to mandate increases in housing without taking into account the supply and cost of land, construction labor, materials and financing, which is currently very expensive.  Negating local zoning will not address any of the underlying economic realities.

With finite supplies of land, labor, lumber and loans, pouring unnatural amounts of state and municipal money into the housing market, instead of increased supply driving prices down as expected, may have unintended inflationary consequences and conversely  make housing less affordable.

The Senate Bill 6 would create a Housing Growth Fund to be administered by the Commissioner of Community and Economic Development and appropriate $50 million to it annually. 

Daniel O’Keefe, Commissioner Designate of the Department of Economic and Community Development submitted written testimony in opposition that is compelling:  ”The Housing Growth Fund outlined in section 2 is not funded in the Governor’s budget, and DECD does not have available appropriations to allocate $50 million a year to this new initiative. In addition, we do not have the staff capacity to stand up this new program, and doing so would require additional funding in the budget for staff.” 

This is clearly a half-baked proposal that is unfunded and not supported by the Commission tasked with administering it.

The cities to be eligible to receive this largess must have poverty rates greater than the State (9.8%) or account for 2% or more of the previous year’s housing permit approvals.  That alone narrows the number of eligible towns to 38.  Plus to be eligible 10% of those housing permits must be restricted to households earning 30% or less of the state median income.  This funding would go to a very small number of municipalities but imposes a heavy reporting mandate on all towns to establish a very complicated “housing growth score.”

Senate Bill 6 includes provisions permitting housing authorities to expand their areas of operation into municipalities other than where they have been democratically established.  The original provision requiring the agreement of the legislative body of a municipality in the housing authority’s expanded area of operation is deleted.  So, housing authorities would be free to invade other towns with no accountability to any locally elected or appointed officials.  The encroaching housing authority would become just another absentee landlord.

The very controversial 8-30g statute, gives developers a very intimidating appeals process if 30% or more of the units are restricted to low-income households in a proposed development before a Planning and Zoning Commission.  This statute has been in effect for 33 years and is long overdue for evaluation.  But so-called housing advocates consider it sacred and beyond reproach.  What do they fear a review might reveal?

Here are just a few facts.  After 33 years, the 2023 8-30g affordable housing appeals list reports the number of low-income units in the State to be 175,548, of which only 5,632 or 3.2% are deed-restricted.  Most low-income housing in Connecticut is either government assisted (54.0%), tenant rental assisted (28.3%) or financed by the state or federal government to qualified low-income owners (14.6%).  

8-30g accounts for no more than the deed-restricted units.  But 2,997 or 53.2% of the deed-restricted units are in towns that are exempt from 8-30g because more than 10% of their housing units are low income.  That leaves 2,635 deed-restricted units in non-exempt towns where 8-30g may have factored into their approvals.  That is just 1.5% of the total 175,548 low-income units identified on the 2023 8-30g affordable housing appeals list.

Yet 8-30g hangs as a threat over every single-family residential neighborhood and provides a cudgel for developers to intimidate locally elected and appointed zoning officials. Is the juice worth the squeeze?  Clearly, the other housing programs are much more effective and much less controversial.  

8-30g is extremely divisive and creates a highly charged adversarial environment that is counterproductive. After 33 years what do its defenders fear from a study of the statute?

There are a variety of proposals to encourage the conversion of commercial property into residential housing.  Some of these are as-of-right, eliminating public hearings, local input and zoning discretion.  They also pose adverse fiscal consequences as the cost of municipal services to residential property exceeds the property taxes collected by 16%.  While commercial property taxes are three times the cost of municipal services delivered according to the American Farmland Trust.  Municipalities need a healthy mix of commercial and residential property for fiscal soundness and to provide jobs and services to the community.  These decisions are best left to the discretion of locally elected and appointed zoning officials informed by input from public hearings.

Reasonable people can disagree.  And the debates about housing and homelessness and proposed state interventions have been perennial since at least the inception of 8-30g, 33 years ago.  The debates  are not likely to conclude any time soon and certainly not in the short session of the 2024 General Assembly.  But the proposals of the hydra-headed housing lobby and their partners in the General Assembly are highly repetitive and multiplying like rabbits.  Staying informed and engaged is very challenging for the average citizen and nearly impossible without a watchdog like CT169Strong.

Kirk Carr, Ridgefield, CT
Alexis Harrison, Fairfield, CT
Maria Weingarten, New Canaan

Carr, Harrison and Weingarten are members of CT169Strong