We know the numbers. The need is clear.
Connecticut, like the nation, has been in the midst of a housing crisis –a crisis that predates the COVID-19 pandemic but has been exacerbated by it.
Over 130,000 of Connecticut’s lowest-income families (those earning at or below 30% of the area median income) are facing extraordinary housing cost burdens (paying 50% or more of their income toward housing) according to Open Communities Alliance Fair Share Housing Model for Connecticut, 2020. Increase the threshold to families earning up to 50% of the AMI and that number soars to over 200,000 Connecticut households. The Federal government’s own estimate of need indicates that U.S. affordable housing programs are under-resourced to such a degree that only one out of every four income-eligible families is receiving assistance. As if that weren’t enough, currently, over 150,000 Connecticut neighbors are at risk of eviction in the midst of the worst healthcare crisis of our lifetime (CT Mirror, 12/21/2020).
Connecticut has failed to develop adequate plans to address this shortfall. Instead, the state continues to set arbitrary affordable housing goals at 10% of the housing stock in every community while analyses by OCA and others prove that this goal falls woefully short of the actual need for affordable housing options for Connecticut’s families. Consider the Greater New Haven region. Were the towns in South Central region that are currently below the 10% threshold to reach it, an additional 7,000 units would be produced. Compare this to Fair Share analyses for the region that demonstrate that another 25,000 units are needed simply to support the lowest income severely housing burdened families.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused economic disruption throughout our economy, hitting our lowest-income neighbors the most severe blow. Saved currently by the eviction moratorium from becoming unhoused, such measures have done little to stem the ever-mounting housing and utility arrearages nor to prevent eventual eviction for over 150,000 CT families.
We know the numbers. The need is clear.
And still, we are not making progress. Some may assume that it’s because the solutions are not clear. But this is not the case. The solutions are known: we must increase the supply of affordable units; we must increase the availability of housing subsidy dollars used to assist families in accessing quality housing; and we must move families out of poverty and create wealth.
And yet the barriers to progress remain firmly entrenched in Connecticut’s “steady habits” – inadequate funding for affordable housing preservation and development; lack of investment in urban communities; little to no development of affordable housing in suburban communities; zoning, local control, public housing jurisdiction restrictions and other limitations that work to prevent the development of a range of housing options; discriminatory practices and inadequate enforcement of fair housing laws; regressive taxation policies; insufficient workforce development and economic growth strategies and more combine to create a landscape in Connecticut that is cementing segregated housing patterns, creating wider gaps between income and housing costs, contributing to population loss and leaving far too many families in a housing crisis.
At Elm City Communities/Housing Authority of the City of New Haven, we have been working to create and implement a new vision for affordable housing. This vision rests on investment in our communities to create high-quality, mixed-income housing that meets residents’ needs while simultaneously providing the services and supports necessary to build residents’ earning power and economic self-sufficiency. After nearly 20 years of investment, we have rebuilt the majority of our developments, transforming communities.
And while we are poised to bring this development expertise to many other communities creating high-quality affordable housing options, we are limited by jurisdictional issues, zoning restraints, and inadequate funding that serve to maintain existing discriminatory housing patterns in our State. Connecticut’s entrenched systems and approaches to affordable housing limit the ability to effectively desegregate communities and expand the opportunity for affordable housing into new communities.
Meanwhile, 130,000 of our lowest-income families suffer. In addition to the painful reality for these families, our state as a whole suffers from the lost economic growth, population decline, negative environmental impacts, and the moral and legal implications of continuing to practice illegal and discriminatory housing practices.
We know the numbers. The need is clear. The solutions are, too.
The good news, if there is some, is that we know how to address these issues. In a moment in time when attention is focused on the racial inequities in our state and country, we cannot miss the ways in which housing policy has been a primary tool in building the architecture of segregated communities and under-resourced urban settings while simultaneously building wealthy suburbs and segregated schools. Bold action is needed by our federal, state, and local policymakers to address this crisis.
H.B. No. 6430 is currently pending in the Connecticut State Legislature – An Act Concerning Housing Authority Jurisdiction. Housing authorities have become major developers of quality, mixed-income housing, and yet the state has placed artificial limitations on where they can develop. Housing authority developers with the means to create quality affordable options cannot get into new communities to build there. Meanwhile, in neighboring communities, development opportunities are stalled when developers struggle to finance developments in ways that include affordable units. Housing authority developers are asking to be treated as any other developer – subject to the same local processes – yet not hampered by state-imposed geographical restrictions.
Support for H.B. No. 6430 will create a pathway to the creation of new affordable housing to address the need in Connecticut. This solution by itself will not fix our problems, but it is a necessary part of the solution. You can act now. Raise your voice in support of this bill. The State Legislative Housing Committee will hold a public hearing on Thursday, at 11 am. Submit your testimony. Call or email your legislators. Let them know that this is the moment to take real steps toward creating racial and economic equity in Connecticut’s housing policy. Legislators have the opportunity to pass real housing reform this session. Let’s not miss the moment.
Karen DuBois-Walton, Ph.D. is the President of Elm City Communities/Housing Authority of the City of New Haven.