A lot has been said about affordable housing lately – some of it accurate, some not so much – after the legislature approved a bill that changes Connecticut’s principal affordable housing statute and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy vetoed it.
Whether the General Assembly decides to sustain or override the governor’s veto remains to be seen. Good, intellectually honest people – lawmakers, developers, municipal officials, housing advocates – can disagree about whether the bill altering the Affordable Housing Appeals Procedure should become law.
But while everyone is entitled to their opinion, not everyone, as the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan liked to say, is entitled to their own facts. There is one set of facts about the 8-30g statute, as the law is known. And lawmakers, before they vote to erase Malloy’s veto or uphold it, should be aware of the truth.
Fact 1: Contrary to a frequent misstatement, 8-30g does not allow developers carte blanche to ignore local zoning.
The law says, in simplest terms, that unless 10 percent of a town’s housing stock is government-assisted or deed-restricted to remain affordable, a developer who is willing to build housing with a sufficient degree of guaranteed long-term affordability can challenge the town’s failure to approve the proposal. At least three of every 10 units in the development must be priced so that people earning less than 80 percent or 60 percent of the state or area median income need not pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent or mortgage payment.
Does the town have recourse? Absolutely. If it can show the development would significantly threaten public health or safety, it can deny the developer’s application.
Judges have ruled in favor of towns when significant issues regarding wastewater, traffic or other substantial objections were proven. Or the town can facilitate the building of enough affordable housing to get over the 10 percent threshold. Or the town can qualify for a four-year moratorium from 8-30g by encouraging the development of a much smaller number of eligible housing. If it continues to promote additional affordable housing development during the moratorium, it can obtain additional moratoriums.
Is it difficult to qualify for a moratorium? Not if the town tries. Farmington, Wilton, New Canaan and Ridgefield have qualified. Darien, Berlin and Trumbull have qualified for two. Another 31 towns exceed the 10 percent threshold. Towns can find the right locations, achieve consensus and attract talented developers. But many don’t try.
Fact 2: Connecticut is not the only state with a similar statute. Massachusetts has a very similar law that was a model for 8-30g.
Fact 3: Contrary to assertions that 8-30g has produced few units, it has produced about 5,000 affordable homes and more than 10,000 additional modestly priced, market rate apartments and homes as part of mixed-income developments. It has spurred many forward-thinking towns to proactively permit thousands more affordable homes to be built.
Fact 4: Many towns have used exclusionary tactics – minimum lot sizes, glacial land-use approval processes, purposeful failure to build sewers and other infrastructure, lawsuits and oft-repeated myths that affordable homes will lower property values, increase crime and swell school budgets – to block affordable home creation.
Fact 5: Mixed-income 8-30g developments have been good neighbors, bringing none of the ills opponents have predicted. They are environmentally sound, and are often anti-sprawl because they must have sewer hookups and other infrastructure, and their multifamily design saves energy even without green features.
Most important, they have provided opportunity for thousands who wouldn’t have otherwise enjoyed it. Because most have been built in wealthier towns that had previously produced little affordability, those living in these affordable or modest-market-rate homes have had access to high-resource schools, jobs, health care, child care and other vital services that are all connected to better outcomes for their families.
The 8-30g statute has given more families the opportunity to live in the communities that work best for them. In a state with one of the highest achievement gaps, the second-highest wealth disparity, disgraceful underemployment among youth and minority groups, too much sprawl and often too little access to opportunity, 8-30g has been a shining light.
Those are the facts.
Sean Ghio is policy director of the Partnership for Strong Communities, a housing advocacy group in Hartford.