New coalition renews push for more affordable housing in CT

A new multi-year initiative aims to encourage more affordable housing, reduce segregation and push community revitalization in Connecticut.

A new multi-year initiative aims to encourage more affordable housing, reduce segregation and push community revitalization in Connecticut.

Erik Trautmann / Hearst Connecticut Media

About 20 organizations have joined a coalition to support a new, multi-year initiative designed to support more affordable housing and reduce segregation in Connecticut.

The initiative, called Growing Together Connecticut, aims to build 300,000 new housing units and promote revitalization in Connecticut over the next 10 years. Among the first goals is to create a fair share planning and zoning law for zoning reform in the state.

“From our perspective, Connecticut has this sort of dual housing crisis,” said Erin Boggs, executive director of the Open Communities Alliance. The alliance is an organizing member on the steering committee.

“On one hand, we are one of the most expensive states in the country, and on the other, we are one of the most segregated.”

Municipalities would be responsible for building a share of new affordable housing units to meet a statewide goal. A draft bill stipulates the state will determine the need.

The fair share initiative is based on a New Jersey law.

Each municipality’s share is determined through four factors: A town’s wealth as defined by its equalized grand list, the median income compared to other towns in its region, the percentage of housing stock that is multifamily housing, and the rate of poverty in a town, according to initiative documents.

Towns can develop their own plans for how to meet those goals, under the proposal. The proposal also says the state will establish enforcement and incentive tactics to ensure municipalities participate.

“It’s sort of common sense, and it builds off of existing state statutes to say every town has an obligation under state law to be planning and zoning for affordable housing,” Boggs said.

Opponents of zoning reform bills introduced last year said it took too much power away from localities and pushed one-size-fits all solutions for housing on towns. Officials representing Greenwich, Darien and parts of Stamford were among those who spoke out against the reforms.

A lack of affordable housing units has become a growing focal point of political conversation in recent years. Connecticut lacks more than 86,000 units that are available and affordable for its extremely low-income renters, according to estimates from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Housing is typically considered affordable if a person is spending up to a third of their income on housing costs. Building multi-family housing, which tends to have lower rent costs, is difficult in Connecticut because of what advocates say are restrictive zoning laws.

“It’s really important to provide housing choice to people not only because it’s the right thing to do, but it’s what we need to do to have a vibrant and thriving economy,” said Greg Kirschner, legal director for the Connecticut Fair Housing Center.

The Fair Housing Center is one of the organizations on the Growing Together steering committee.

Creating more affordable housing options that give workers more places to live will make Connecticut a more attractive place for business, Boggs said.

More affordable units in cities with higher property wealth would also mean families with lower incomes can move in and give their children the opportunity to attend school in those municipalities, said Subira Gordon, executive director of ConnCan, another group on the steering committee.

“Property-rich towns are just able to spend so much more on education than property poor towns,” Gordon said. “The outcomes for those students are just likely to be significantly better. That is why we are very interested in staying at the table here because we want to make sure that property-poor towns are able to have the same outcomes as property-rich towns.”

“Giving them housing options are just one of the ways that’s a possibility.”

Other organizations on the steering committee include: the Hispanic Federation, Corporation for Supportive Housing and the Commission on Human Rights and Opportunity.

Other members include: Elm City Communities, Fairfield Center for Housing Opportunity, Partnership for Strong Communities, Commission for Women, Children and Seniors, and Connecticut Voices for Children, among others.

The initiative also includes an “equitable urban investment” portion, documents show.

The groups plan to develop that plan through community listening sessions over the next several months. They’ll tailor priorities based on the feedback they get, but believe many ideas will fall into ways to create wealth, support renters and build community.

Examples may include small business investments, support for subsidized housing and investing in parks and playgrounds.

“To do this right, we really want to ground it in community engagement and community involvement,” Boggs said.