Milford reps testify on affordable housing changes

HARTFORD >> State Reps. Pam Staneski, R-119, Charles Ferraro, R-117, and Julie Nash, director of Milford Economic and Community Development, testified recently at a legislative public hearing on the affordable housing (8-30g) laws at the State Capitol.

Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, is the co-chairwoman of the Housing Committee. Rep. Kim Rose, a longtime member, also attended.

Staneski and Nash testified in support of SB-535: An Act Revising the Affordable Housing Land Use Appeals Process and Requirements for Affordable Housing Applications and Obtaining a Municipal Moratorium.

“I am proud to that my community has been proactive in providing affordable housing for all — the only homeless shelter between Stamford and New Haven, mutual housing apartment programs, many apartments and homes that rent below market rates (and have for many years), protection of a mobile home park, senior housing, and housing for disabled seniors.

“We are the Small City with a Big Heart and have embraced affordable housing the way that the statute intended,” Staneski said.

“The goal of our Milford delegation legislation proposal is to not to stop affordable housing, but to have a better process in place to protect the health, safety and character of the surrounding neighborhoods,” Staneski said.

Ferraro said: “The Affordable Housing Regulation 8-30g gives predatory developers the ability to circumvent local zoning laws.”

“We need to adjust this top-down policy to give well-deserved control back to the local zoning officials. I am hopeful that HB 535 will pass and that we can begin to make the necessary changes to the housing regulations in Connecticut.”

Nash read Milford Mayor Benjamin G. Blake’s testimony to the committee.

“Milford has zoned for and developed a wide range of affordable housing as a testament to sound planning principles. Despite the breadth and depth of our affordability, Milford is not getting credit where proper credit is due.

“As a mature community dating back to 1639, many of our affordable properties were developed prior to the law’s cutoff that only credits the affordable units that were deed restricted after 1990. This artificial statutory condition distorts the actual affordability of Milford’s housing stock.

“Moreover, the present statutory formula creates an uneven playing field, making it difficult for certain mature Connecticut communities, like Milford, to qualify for a moratorium or exemption under CGS § 8-30g.”

Some key points of House Bill 535 are:

• It expands what can be counted toward moratorium numbers; protects historic homes by putting in restrictions; requires a three-person panel hear appeals; prohibits any affordable housing application if a property tax line is open, unless municipality waives prohibition.

• It allows for denial of application if project contains 25 units or less and is more than two times the density of the surrounding zone, provided municipality has 5 percent or more of dwelling units that are affordable housing and at least two noncontiguous areas zoned for multifamily housing.

• It gives local zoning boards the right to develop specific guidelines for affordable housing applications that conform to best practices of existing structures in neighborhoods; allows layperson testimony to be deemed credible by the commission and submitted upon appeal to be considered by courts on same level as expert testimony.

• Under current law, local planning and zoning boards deny an 8-30g application and a single Superior Court judge hears the appeal.

Under the Milford proposal, the review would go to a three-judge panel of trial referees.

Connecticut uses a similar model for binding arbitration decisions, and given the contentious nature of land use appeals, having three separate perspectives provides a better decision process.

• This proposal would also amend the statute to allow the local land-use board to establish the personal knowledge and testimony of the layperson to be credible and provide for the testimony to carry the same weight in an appeal as expert testimony.

• It gives any Historic District Commission in a municipality the authority to obtain a certificate of appropriateness if the development is not within the municipality’s historic district and to deny if the certificate cannot be obtained.

• The proposal amends state statutes to include housing that, for all purposes of definition, is affordable — for example, mobile homes.

Milford’s Ryder Park provides an affordable alternative to homeownership for residents on fixed incomes and those with low income. This mobile home park, as others in the state, should be included a municipality’s affordable housing stock and assigned comparable points for moratorium.

The bill awaits further action in the Housing Committee.