An affordable housing moratorium crafted to temporarily halt affordable housing projects in Milford is getting plenty of attention by developers, officials and some neighbors who have been battling housing projects in their neighborhoods.
Some are celebrating the moratorium, others are questioning certain aspects of it, and one local politician is criticizing it as an election-year ploy by local legislators.
City Block Grant Coordinator Tom Ivers, who has been fielding questions about the legislation since it was announced last week, said the moratorium creates an interesting “numbers game.”
First, if housing numbers change slightly here between now and July 1, there’s a chance the moratorium will not affect Milford as intended.
The moratorium, proposed by State Sen. Gayle Slossberg, puts a one-year halt on housing projects filed under the state’s affordable housing law if at least 6% of the community’s housing qualifies as “affordable” under the state law. It also puts a one-year halt on court appeals for affordable housing projects that have been denied.
Right now, 6.05% of Milford’s housing qualifies as affordable under state law. But a state tally of qualified affordable housing units comes out annually, and while Milford’s number hasn’t changed much in recent years, Ivers said the number could change — it could go up or down.
If Milford’s 6.05% increases, the moratorium would still apply; if it drops to 5.99%, for example, the moratorium would no longer apply here.
“It’s an interesting numbers game,” Ivers said.
There is also some speculation that a portion of the moratorium won’t hold up in court. The attorney representing an affordable housing project on Pond Point Avenue and others in similar cases have questioned the validity of the moratorium in terms of halting appeals that have been filed with the court system.
The owners of the Pond Point Avenue parcel filed an appeal early this year after their affordable housing proposal was denied. Their attorney, Ivers said, and others think that if the legislative branch of the government created a law that interferes with an ongoing judicial process, that violates the intended separation of government powers.
Also interesting is the fact that there are other communities the moratorium has the potential to affect, Ivers said.
According to data available in the city’s community block grant office, Milford plus another 22 communities in the state have more than 6% affordable housing, but have not reached the 10% needed to exempt them from the state’s affordable housing law. The state’s affordable housing law — also known as 8-30g — essentially lets developers circumvent local zoning regulations if a certain percentage of their proposed housing units are earmarked as affordable under state guidelines.
That means those other communities with between 6% and 10% affordable housing would also put a one-year halt on affordable housing applications and appeals. Those towns are Berlin, Canton, Colchester, Cromwell, East Haven, Farmington, Griswold, Hamden, Naugatuck, Newington, North Canaan, Plainville, Plymouth, Portland, South Windsor, Thomaston, West Hartford, Wethersfield, Willington, Windsor, Windsor Locks and Wolcott.
Ivers doesn’t know if there are as many, if any, affordable housing proposals in those towns, as there are in Milford. State Rep. James Maroney said there were no proposals in those communities during the time frame outlined in the moratorium. It is the number of plans that have been presented in Milford recently that legislators cited when they proposed the moratorium.
“Over the past year, developers have used Connecticut’s affordable housing appeals procedure to circumvent Milford’s zoning laws at an unprecedented rate,” incumbent legislators said in a press release announcing the intent of the moratorium. “Hundreds of citizens have spoken out, suggesting that this prevents the city from building affordable housing in a deliberate, thoughtful manner consistent with Milford’s Plan of Conservation and Development.”
The legislators said that a year will give people time to look at the law and how it is being used.
“In that year, legislators will work together with stakeholders to determine a process that will appropriately encourage affordable housing while protecting the health, safety and character of neighborhoods,” the legislators said.
Slossberg, State Rep. Paul Davis, James Maroney, Kim Rose and Mayor Ben Blake took part in a press conference last week at City Hall announcing the moratorium.
Republican Town Committee Chairman Paul Beckwith described the moratorium as an election-year stunt.
The “announcement of a one-year moratorium on the 8-30g appeals process falls short of what is truly needed to protect our neighborhoods from over-development,” Beckwith said. “This latest political scheme does nothing to protect Milford neighborhoods. It is an insult to the integrity of our Planning and Zoning Board, and to the citizens who elected them to act on our behalf. If Democratic legislators had any credibility on this issue they would have fought to repeal this onerous law. But they did not.”
On the other hand, opponents of housing plans are heralding the legislation.
“Our State Assembly has passed a bill that would allow for a moratorium on affordable housing applications and appeals for the remainder of this year,” said resident William Stark in an email to neighbors. Stark and his neighbors have been lobbying against an affordable housing complex on New Haven Avenue that they say is too dense for the area.
“It would allow time for our legislators to craft legislation that would limit the ability of developers to build the type of inappropriate in-fill housing such as that being fought at the 1556 New Haven Avenue site,” Stark said.
Who it affects
The moratorium stands to affect the Pond Point Avenue and New Haven Avenue housing proposals, plus several others. There are a few developments that have been recently approved or are in the process of being approved, such as a Millwood Properties plan at 159 Merwin Avenue near the Beach House Restaurant. It contains two affordable units and four market priced units.
Another plan calls for constructing nine residential units at 229 West Main Street, owned by Molly Rentals. There would be six one-bedroom and three two-bedroom units in three, three-floor townhouse buildings.
A proposal by Garden Homes Management for a 273-unit housing complex at 460 Bic Drive is moving its way through city departments and was expected to be the subject of a public hearing soon. It calls for 82 affordable units and the rest market priced.
Milford lawmakers have been promising to tweak the state’s affordable housing law each election since about 1995. City officials said 8-30g comes up nearly every year, but even people who support change are often afraid to vote for it because change could open the law up to more complications.
Ivers sounded impressed that Slossberg got it through.
“Her maneuver must have been elegant,” Ivers said.
The moratorium is contained in House Bill 5597, section 222, and the legislation is expected to land on Governor Dannel Malloy’s desk this week for his signature.
The moratorium reads as follows:
The provisions of chapter 126a of the general statutes shall not be applicable for a term beginning on January 1, 2014, and ending on December 31, 2014, to any application filed or appeal that is pending in a municipality in which (1) at least six per cent of all dwelling units qualify for inclusion on the list prepared by the Commissioner of Housing pursuant to said chapter 126a and required to be submitted in the report prepared by said commissioner pursuant to section 8-37qqq of the general statutes; and (2) (A) the commission, as defined in chapter 126a, approved an application filed pursuant to said chapter 126a on or after November 1, 2013, (B) the commission denied an application filed pursuant to said chapter 126a and such application is the subject of an appeal that is pending as of April 1, 2014, and (C) the commission is considering an application filed pursuant to said chapter 126a as of April 15, 2014.