Very soon, the General Assembly’s Housing Committee will consider a bill, HB 5204, known as the “Fair Share” bill. The bill’s language is vague on how it would actually work, but after analysis of its current language, the impact of the bill would be very devastating for communities throughout Connecticut.
HB5204 would force an arbitrary allocation of affordable housing units to every municipality, decided by housing development advocates. Some towns would have to build thousands of more units.
The bill comes as housing activists recently announced efforts to push for the construction of 300,000 new affordable housing units throughout the state. With the vague language of the bill, the magnitude of the new construction mandate to be imposed on all towns in the state is unknown. This is because the formula or methodology won’t be set up until after the bill is passed into law.
In reality, none of us would sign a document where the details are left open for someone not selected by us to determine. We need the formula and calculation now, not left open for future determination. If housing development lobbyists succeed, then towns, especially communities who have high grand lists and are generally economically successful, could be mandated to build new affordable housing that equals up to 20% of total housing stock- which equates to thousands of units.
Who will come up with the actual formula to be used to determine every town’s new mandatory housing quota? Under HB5204, a team of primarily housing development advocates will advise the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) on establishing the ‘planning regions’ in which each town will be placed, and then devising the formula to assign the new housing development mandate for each town by comparing towns to each other (called the ‘fair share goal’).
Of great concern is that land use stakeholders and experts are omitted from the list comprising the team– the team of advisors to the Secretary of OPM omits stakeholders focused on environmental health, open space preservation, and historical preservation and neighborhood groups. It omits experts on such important land use issues as climate change, infrastructure and sewer capacity, municipal finances, economics, and real estate.
Residents of each town in our state should be alarmed at a law which could mandate that hundreds or even thousands of new housing units must be built without any way to know the formula, or enabling local input and without consideration of each town’s ability to handle the massive increase.
8-30g and it’s 30-year impact
Under 8-30g, the state’s current affordable housing law, Connecticut Affordable Housing Land Use Appeals Procedure, applies to towns that do not have 10 percent of their housing stock deemed affordable. In the name of affordable housing, 8-30g enables housing developers to largely ignore zoning regulations governing height, lot coverage and setbacks if they deed-restrict 30% of the units to be affordable. It’s a great deal for developers and home builders but a bad deal for most neighborhoods who see their property values go down, their neighborhoods drastically changed and of course, negative effects on our natural environment.
In Fairfield where I sit on the Town Plan & Zoning Commission, it took the creation of 1,041 total housing units to produce 384 affordable units. At that ratio, the Fair Share requirement of 2,064 affordable units would require building over 6,000 total units of housing.
Unless heavily subsidized, developers cannot make a profit building developments that are more than 35% affordable using current standards. Six thousand total units of housing would require about 120 acres of development sites, and, depending on density/height, over 100 buildings of significant size (60 units per building) would be needed.
Despite its laudable goals, since its passage in 1990, 8-30g never met the trajectory that it set out to do and few towns in Connecticut have met their 10 percent goal. The math of 8-30g is impossible to meet despite the earnest work of many towns including Fairfield. It’s unfortunate and to the peril of Connecticut’s residents that 8-30g rarely has been amended or repealed to fix its obvious failures.
Questions and thoughts to consider on Fair Share and its impact to Connecticut’s communities:
Infrastructure: Towns like Fairfield that are over 300 years old have infrastructure vulnerabilities such as sewer capacity (and even availability of sewers), old roads and bridges not capable of supporting greatly increased traffic volumes. Even the existing road network is stressed: the limited capacity of roads connecting the Black Rock commerce district and downtown Fairfield is an example.
Geography: Where would a massive amount of affordable housing be constructed, especially in coastal towns that are largely developed and where available lots are virtually non-existent. Our representatives who are considering this bill should show some indication of the availability of open building lots of one acre or more. There are probably not many. That means that affordable housing will need to be developed within existing neighborhoods on currently occupied properties.
Municipal services: Fire, police and other municipal services are not currently capable of handling an extreme increase in residential units. If new affordable units are concentrated in one area of town, for instance, new fire stations may be needed to maintain reasonable response times. An influx of children will bring the need for new schools. Since at least 15 percent of new students (using national averages) will have special needs requirements, the education cost burden will be overwhelming.
Unintended consequences: What are the unintended consequences of “Fair Share?” The unintended consequences from 8-30g are obvious: predatory developers invading neighborhoods for profit. There is also a strong likelihood of fraud in some, perhaps many, 8-30g developments because there is no mechanism to audit the actual rental of affordable units to eligible persons/families. This is especially true as units turn over as time passes.
Fundamental fairness for protected classes: How are the handicapped and the elderly treated under “Fair Share”? 8-30g discriminates against the elderly and the handicapped by its allocation of Housing Unit Equivalency Points. How does “Fair Share” meet the needs of these groups?
There are many more questions and frustrations with the Fair Share bill, and I call on all of Connecticut’s residents whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, and Independent to demand that your lawmaker does a full due diligence of the bill and how Fair Share will impact your town. Zoning should not be made political. Land is the most finite of resources, and once local communities lose control over it, we can no longer protect it.
Alexis Harrison is a member of the Fairfield Town Planning and Zoning Commission. Her comments are solely her own and not those of the town board.