How can Connecticut promote economic development, do more to keep its college graduates from leaving and generally improve our quality of life, all at the same time? The answer involves creating more diversity in housing.
We could begin by reforming state and municipal land-use laws, regulations and practices to encourage increased development of “missing middle” housing, which has become scarcer in Connecticut as demand increases.
“Missing middle” housing is defined as, “A range of multi-unit or clustered housing types — compatible in scale with detached single-family homes — that help meet the growing demand for walkable urban living.” Types of missing middle housing include duplexes, townhouses, carriage houses, fourplexes, multiplex, live/work, bungalow court and courtyard apartments.
Increased development of “missing middle” housing is a nationwide effort supported by the AARP, the National Association of Home Builders, the Urban Land Institute and other civic-minded organizations.
Across the country, various states are exploring new ways to address housing affordability issues. This year, for example, Oregon passed a law that allows all middle housing types to be built on lots zoned for single-family detached homes in cities with a population of 25,000 or more. The new law also allows duplexes to be built on lots zoned for single-family detached homes in towns with populations greater than 10,000 but less than 25,000. The law does not prohibit construction of single-family homes, but it allows for more affordable housing options where they didn’t exist before.
In Connecticut, given our acute housing affordability issues and lack of diversity in housing stock, it is time to consider similar legislation. The General Assembly ought to revisit House Bill 6749 from last session, which would require the Department of Housing to convene a working group of housing advocates, developers and municipal officials to review state laws and municipal zoning ordinances with a goal of finding ways to create more affordable and diverse housing stock.
Thankfully the wheel need not be re-invented. The Home Builders association offers great resources on this topic for policymakers to consider. This includes a “Housing For All” brochure, a Land Use 101 Toolkit and comprehensive reports such as its latest titled, “Diversifying Housing Options with Small Lots and Smaller Homes.”
More diverse housing stock will be a welcome change for senior citizens who want to downsize but continue to living in their communities. For recent college grads who are currently priced out of the towns they grew up in, having more housing options will offer an alternative to moving out of state.
Teachers, firefighters, police officers and others with moderate incomes will be more likely to reside in the communities they serve. The Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Connecticut, in partnership with other key housing advocates, stands ready to work with the General Assembly, the governor and policymakers to find our “missing middle.”
Jim Perris is CEO of the Home Builders & Remodelers Association of Connecticut.