A housing-abundant Fairfield County will be an engine for the American Dream in Connecticut, and we need state leadership to help us get there.
A small number of anti-homes activists are trying to maintain an exclusionary status quo — often wielding climate and environmental arguments to oppose more broad-based prosperity — and as Hugh Bailey emphasized in his outstanding August 7 op-ed, we don’t have to listen to them.
Housing scarcity is not a natural state of affairs, and a pro-homes, pro-opportunity Fairfield County will be a win-win for its residents and the entire state.
Even though the 2022 legislative session ended in May, anti-opportunity activists continue to flood Connecticut’s opinion sections with screeds against growth and housing. For example, a recent article in the Connecticut Mirror made the incredible claim that local control in Connecticut’s suburbs is actually a climate and environmental policy. The author — a member of Fairfield’s Plan and Zoning Commission and frequent opponent of Connecticut’s affordable housing law 8-30g—wrote:
- This law [section 8-30g] has seen little change in the 30-plus years it’s been in effect and climate change has worsened in this time. Our legislators must seriously re-visit and re-evaluate this law, which has created little affordability…and adversely impacts our natural environment.
Astonishingly, the article states that affordable housing laws are actively harming the environment and implies that 8-30g is somehow at fault for not single-handedly preventing climate change. As Marcus Palumbo pointed out in the Fairfield Patch, the reality is the exact opposite.
Indeed, the truth is that towns like Fairfield have done nothing for the climate and environment with their local control. A recent University of Connecticut study found that leveraging Connecticut’s existing Metro-North line will make the state more climate resilient, but noted that Fairfield’s stations are not particularly walkable and are underutilized. Only 2% of Fairfield’s land allows something as small as three homes on a parcel, while huge portions of the town mandate two-acre minimum lots, increasing driving and emissions.
What about the related claim that only local planning boards know how to manage their waterways and vulnerable marshlands? Unfortunately, that also doesn’t hold water.
While Fairfield has both a Conservation Commission and Inland Wetlands Agency, neither organization was formed via local control. Instead, as Fairfield’s town website writes, “the regulation of inland wetlands and watercourses in the Town of Fairfield is a process initiated in 1974 by the State of Connecticut legislature.” Fairfield County’s suburban zoning boards haven’t wielded their local control in the name of the environment or climate, but in the name of scarcity and exclusion, leaving us with the lowest vacancy rates in the country and crushing housing and rental costs.
So we know what local exclusionary zoning hasn’t done, but I want to focus on what a housing-abundant Fairfield County will do in its place. People looking for homes here take housing scarcity for granted, and I don’t think they can imagine how transformative housing abundance will be. Instead of middle class families bidding against one another for a limited number of “member slots” in the county’s suburbs, they could be spending that money on family vacations, hobbies and the experiences that make life worth living. We don’t need to accept the exclusionary status quo propped up by a vocal minority. We can choose prosperity instead of scarcity.
Housing abundance will mean more chances for families at all income levels to own, more affordable housing for those that need it, more grandparents that can downsize and age near loved ones, more of the region’s young adults that can afford to settle near family, and more customers for local businesses that are currently nothing but a dream. A housing-abundant Fairfield County will be a job-generating machine for Connecticut, and a growing, dynamic economy will lift property values — we don’t have to artificially reduce the number of homes to achieve that. And, importantly, a housing-abundant Fairfield County will utilize its existing downtowns and transit stops to generate less CO2 emissions and cleaner air.
With its access to New York City, beautiful coastline, and great schools, Fairfield County is a lovely place to live, and I think more people should have the chance to make a life here if they want to. They should have the chance to own a single-family home with a backyard, and they should have the chance to rent in a walkable downtown or live in an accessory dwelling unit near their family if that’s what they’d prefer.
The cornerstone of the American Dream is the ability to seek opportunity, but that can only happen if you have a place to call home. Local control is restricting our choices and dreams, and we should ignore the voices pretending that it’s good for the environment or that exclusion is a valid policy.
In 2007 then-Sen. Barack Obama said “when our fellow Americans are denied the American dream, our own dreams are diminished,” and I couldn’t agree more. The Fairfield County of the first half of the 20th century was a place where people could achieve those dreams, but it wasn’t always equally available. Today, we need state leadership to usher in a just, housing-abundant Fairfield County and help thousands achieve their American Dream. Ultimately, we’ll all be better off for it.
Thomas Broderick lives in Trumbull.