Municipalities throughout Connecticut are dodging the state’s affordable housing law. The state has a homeless population of nearly 3,000, which increased by 13 percentage points from 2021 to 2022. But many municipalities are completely failing when it comes to affordable housing; 42 cities and districts remain long overdue on the mandatory affordable housing plans submission, yet they face no form of punishment.
Connecticut’s affordable housing law, 8-30j requires municipalities to submit affordable housing plans every five years with the most recent deadline being this past July. The law stems from the long-standing 8-30g bill that was enacted in 1989 that encourages the development of affordable housing in suburban communities where it makes up less than 10 percent of the housing stock. The mandatory submission of municipal plans is a great start for encouraging affordable housing, but the lack of a penalty system leaves far too much leeway for municipalities.
The nationwide housing shortage and increase in housing costs has impacted Connecticut, too. The Partnership for Strong Communities showed that as of June, the average hourly housing wage for a 2 bedroom apartment is $27.37, leaving many Connecticut residents below the income required to afford housing. Additionally, there is a significant shortage in housing as a whole, further increasing housing costs in an already high-inflation market that makes it incredibly difficult to afford basic living essentials. The continuous rise in housing costs since the Covid-19 pandemic coincides with an increase in the homeless population in the state of Connecticut from 2021 to 2022. The need to address the affordable housing shortage is urgent and municipalities would benefit from affordable housing development, as greater investment into communities has been proven to stimulate economic growth.
In 1989, the state of Connecticut introduced its affordable housing bill, 8-30g, which, according to one estimate, has been attributed with the development of 8,500 of the state’s affordable units. The 8-30g bill exempts project proposals that include affordable units from local zoning regulations and demands that denial from local zoning boards be on the basis of public health or safety.
However, residents have joined the fight, making claims about protection for historic buildings and landmarks, although realistically they are probably more concerned about their property values and who their neighbors will be. These preventative measures appear to be the modern form of historical housing discrimination practices of the past like redlining which have left a lasting impact in keeping Connecticut as one of the most racially segregated states in the country.
If wealthy towns like New Canaan and Greenwich are currently avoiding state law that requires a submission of affordable housing plans, then the odds of these local governments taking initiative and implementing affordable housing development themselves are next to zero. State government officials should look to implement a penalty system for the municipalities that do not cooperate with 8-30j and have less than 10 percent of available housing stock deemed “affordable.”
However, an exception should be made for cities like Hartford, which despite missing the deadline, has served as a leader in offering affordable housing. The exception should apply to municipalities where affordable housing makes up more than 10 percent of available housing stock, as 8-30g already allows an exception for these municipalities to reject affordable housing development proposals on grounds other than public health and safety.
While on the surface it may seem extreme, penalty systems have been proposed in the past, as exemplified by Minnesota where municipalities that did not comply with state legislation faced the loss of state revenue-sharing payments, but were eventually vetoed by the Governor. However, with the re-election of Governor Lamont who has backed the 8-30g bill, and has shown support for affordable housing development, a penalty system should be an obvious next step and would help ensure municipalities comply with state law.
Paul Selleck is a senior at Trinity College, majoring in Economics and Public Policy & Law.