Connecticut’s ‘Game of Zones’ important to affordable housing

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A game of zones — Connecticut’s local zoning ordinances — they’re unique to the 169 municipalities that make up our great state.  Navigating through them can sometimes be a battle, especially when it comes to affordable housing development.  But that development is worth fighting for.

Some say that affordable housing is one of the best kept secrets for a successful, thriving community with an eye for transit-oriented and economic development.  Zoning is often confined to the local level, but it’s time to get the conversation started statewide.

What we know is that every town and city in Connecticut needs affordable housing.  Whether it’s for our seniors, for our local employees, for our families, or for our young professionals.  A healthy stock of affordable housing enables us to attract and keep folks of all ages in Connecticut. The result is healthy, multi-generational communities with a solid workforce to strengthen our economy.

What are our obstacles?

Funding.  After nearly 30 years of disinvestment, Gov. Dannel Malloy identified affordable housing development as a priority. This administration is responsible for the first significant state affordable housing investment in nearly three decades.  Since 2011, almost 16,000 affordable units are in some phase of construction with 8,000 of those units already built and occupied.

Local Zoning. Some say these ordinances are necessary, permitting towns and cities to maintain their unique character.  However, some of these ordinances perpetuate exclusionary zoning practices.  Buried in the myriad of our state’s local ordinances, there are municipalities who do not allow multifamily housing development at all, others have 2+ acre zoning, and most require some kind of special approval to build.  These exclusionary practices are more prevalent in some communities than in others, creating a “not in my back yard” mentality.   Many of the towns with exclusionary zoning are also steadfast in their opposition to affordable housing, yet they’re the same communities with a rapidly aging population and shrinking school enrollment.

There has been little movement on the local level to address these exclusionary practices, which is one of the reasons why the Affordable Housing Land Use Appeals Procedure (C.G.S. 8-30g) was created.   Developers want to build affordable housing, but some communities just won’t let them.  Opponents of this law openly fight new development in their communities and argue that 8-30g is due for an update.

It’s not 8-30g that needs to be updated.  The fact is Connecticut’s local zoning ordinances are out of date.  Only 20 municipalities allow for the development of multifamily housing by right.  Another 122 municipalities allow it with a special permit.  There are 25 municipalities where it’s not permitted at all, in conflict with state statute, and there are two municipalities who don’t have any clearly defined zoning ordinances.

Connecticut and Rhode Island are the only two states without county government.  This means that we have to tackle tough issues in a very different way: either set policy at a local level or set policy at a state level.

Under Gov. Malloy’s watchful eye we’ve rapidly expanded access to affordable housing while working to prevent and end homelessness.  We were the first state in the nation to end chronic veteran’s homelessness and we’re one of only two states in the nation who have effectively ended all veteran’s homelessness.  Our progressive state housing policy has allowed us to set aggressive goals and we’re proud of our record.  It’s an exciting time to implement housing policy in Connecticut.

Today, we have an opportunity to lead the nation in eliminating exclusionary zoning and working together to build a Connecticut where everyone will have a place to call home.

What do you think?

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