One reason the single family detached house on a small lot proliferated so widely, at least in the Northeast, is that it was very cheap to develop, requiring no advance investment from the municipality.

It required a minimal upfront capital investment from the developer. Rural undeveloped land was plentiful so it could be obtained cheaply, and other than engineering and regulatory costs, all that was needed was to put in the streets. The utilities would be paid by the companies providing those services, and there was no need to wait for the municipality to extend water and sewer services since those developments rely on individual wells and septic systems.

I bring this up to highlight one of the difficulties in now reversing this trend in Connecticut: it is not as simple as eliminating zoning constraints to enable the construction of multiple unit housing in areas now reserved for single-family dwellings on two-acre lots.  Newly built housing, if it is going to be dense and priced attractively, requires either municipal water and sewer extended to the area in question, or some subsidy to aid the developer with the cost of a community system.

This is something my town discovered when it changed its code to permit apartment building in previous single-family areas: no developer “took the bait” because, without water and sewer, the cost per unit (including the cost of land) was too high to allow for a reasonable profit, especially if in addition the price had to conform to “affordable housing” standards.

To conclude: the housing “status quo” won’t be changed just by loosening local land-use regulation: reliance on the property tax also has to be changed so that municipalities have the wherewithal to put in public services in currently unserved areas, and decrease reliance on individual wells and septic systems.

Raul de Brigard is a former planning and zoning commissioner in Haddam.

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