A handful of housing and zoning reform bills have drawn attention to issues of affordability in a state that needs tens of thousands more housing units that are accessible to people with low incomes, but few of them are expected to pass before the legislature adjourns.
The bills aim to make housing more affordable in Connecticut where rents have spiked and home prices have soared in recent months.
The state lacks about 85,400 units of housing that are accessible to people with extremely low incomes, according to estimates from the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Experts say restrictive local zoning regulations make it difficult for developers to build multifamily housing in the state.
Multifamily housing tends to be more affordable for people with low incomes. Housing is considered affordable if residents are paying up to a third of their incomes toward rent or a mortgage.
Many of the bills have met opposition from local officials and residents who say they enforce a one-size-fits-all solution on towns. They’ve advocated for local control.
Most of the bills are unlikely to pass in the last hours of the legislative session.
What it does: House Bill 5429, the transit-oriented development bill, would allow denser residential construction around train stations and add some affordability requirements for that housing. Under the bill, developers wouldn’t have to go through the public hearing process to build in those areas. Decisions on permit applications would have to be issued within 65 days of submission.
Where it stands: The bill, which had a lengthy public hearing, didn’t get a vote in the Planning and Development Committee, meaning it hasn’t advanced to the floor of either chamber.
Support: Those in favor of the bill, including the advocacy group Desegregate CT, said it would improve access to public transportation and lower housing costs by increasing supply. As supply increases, prices tend to drop. Access to transportation poses challenges for people with low incomes, and advocates said there would be environmental benefits if more people used public transit.
Opposition: Some officials representing towns with train stations spoke against the bill, saying increasing the amount of housing around specific train stations wouldn’t work because of environmental concerns or existing infrastructure, among other issues.
What it does: House Bill 5204 would require the Office of Policy and Management to assess the need for affordable housing on a regional basis in Connecticut. Then, towns would share the responsibility to meet that need. They’d have to plan and zone for a certain number of units. That number would be determined by the towns’ wealth, median income compared to other towns in the region, percentage of housing stock that’s multifamily housing, and the poverty rate.
Where it stands: The fair share bill passed through the Housing Committee in March but didn’t make it out of the Appropriations Committee. The bill would have cost state agencies an estimated $444,649 in fiscal year 2023 and $489,278 in fiscal year 2024, and an unknown cost to some municipalities.
Support: The bill was part of the Growing Together Connecticut initiative, a coalition of about 30 organizations. Advocates said the bill would increase the amount of affordable housing in Connecticut and put towns in charge of developing their plans to meet the need.
Opposition: Opponents of the fair share bill echoed many of the same concerns as those raised about the transit-oriented development bill — that it would erode local control and impose one solution on all towns in the state. They also said some towns don’t have the infrastructure to support more housing.
What it does: Senate Bill 169 would require the Commissioner of Housing to study the effects of a decades-old law known by its statutory reference, 8-30g. That law provides court remedies to developers who are denied permits to build affordable housing, even if the proposals don’t follow local zoning ordinances. Municipalities are exempt if at least 10% of their housing stock is set designated affordable.
Where it stands: After a public hearing before the Housing Committee, the bill didn’t get a committee vote.
Support: Those who spoke in favor of the bill, including sponsor Rep. Jennifer Leeper, D-Fairfield, said 8-30g has disproportionately impacted a few towns. Others said the law has failed to achieve its objectives.
Opposition: Housing experts and advocates pushed against the bill, which they said was a veiled attempt to weaken one of the state’s foremost affordable housing policies. They argued that the bill had been effective at establishing more affordable housing in Connecticut and keeping the issue at the front of local officials’ minds.
Fair rent commission
What it does: This bill requires municipalities with populations of 25,000 or more to establish fair rent commissions. These commissions can conduct investigations, hold hearings, receive rent complaints and issue subpoenas, among other actions. They’re meant to help stop unfair rent increases. Under the bill, 45 municipalities would have fair rent commissions. Twenty-four towns have them now.
Where it stands: House Bill 5205 was passed by the House and Senate and awaits the governor’s signature.
Support: Proponents of the bill say it will provide a needed remedy for tenants in the face of rising rents.
Opposition: Opponents believe the bill unfairly restricts landlords and places an unfunded mandate on municipalities.
Housing authority jurisdiction
What it does: House Bill 5209 would allow housing authorities to develop and operate affordable housing in municipalities outside of their jurisdictions. Housing authorities use federal dollars to develop affordable housing.
Where it stands: After passing out of the Housing Committee, the bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee and passed. It’s now awaiting a House and Senate vote in the last hours of the legislative session.
Support: Supporters say the bill would help increase the amount of affordable housing in Connecticut and help reduce segregation. Several experts and housing authority officials from larger cities in the state spoke in favor of the legislation.
Opposition: Representatives from the group 169Strong have expressed opposition to the bill, saying it weakens local control.