A two-story apartment building.
A housing development in Bridgeport's Black Rock neighborhood. Erica E. Phillips / CT Mirror

For much of the past year, businesses across the state — from manufacturers in the northwest to military contractors in the southeast — have been raising alarms about Connecticut’s housing shortage.

Employers say they’ve had trouble recruiting staff because skilled tradespeople can no longer afford to live in much of the state. Many companies have attributed the state’s estimated 100,000 unfilled job openings to the lack of housing

“The lack of housing growth is the main issue behind the workforce crisis,” said Chris DiPentima, president of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. 

That urgency drove CBIA to form an unlikely coalition with housing advocacy group Desegregate CT and the Connecticut Council of Municipalities, which together have pushed for legislative solutions to the housing crisis during this year’s General Assembly session. 

One of the recommendations the coalition put forward was a proposal incentivizing private sector investment in housing development, which business advocates have referred to as “workforce housing.” 

The legislation would provide tax incentives for companies that fund rental housing developments where a portion of the units are set aside for employees in a certain workforce — such as teachers, police officers, emergency medical personnel or other professions specific to the local area — and offered at a slightly discounted rate. Forty percent of the units would have to serve that appointed workforce, and 10% would need to be offered at a lower rate for low-income families. The rest could be rented at the going “market rate.”

Any such development also would have to be located in a federally designated distressed area, known as an “opportunity zone.”

DiPentima said members of CBIA wanted to contribute to alleviating the housing shortage without having to build and manage housing themselves.

“That’s why we’ve been pushing the tax incentive,” he said. “Employers don’t want to become landlords.”

He said incentivizing business investments in these projects would speed them up. "The private sector moves faster than public sector, that’s known fact," DiPentima said. "This incentive will get dollars off the sidelines and to developers, and that’s going to help acceleration."

With the legislative session nearing its June 7 terminus, both chambers have been refining the last details of broad proposals to address the housing crisis — one of this year’s top priorities. The state lacks about 89,000 units of housing that are affordable and available to its lowest-income renters.

Senate Bill 4 incorporated the “workforce housing” incentives early on. The latest version of House Bill 6781, which lawmakers have been hammering out in earnest this week, also contains the measure.

House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, shrugged off the specificity of the term. “I mean, everything is workforce housing, right?” he said. 

“That's just a way to make people feel less icky about housing issues,” Rojas said. “Call it ‘workforce’ instead of ‘affordable.’ Call it ‘workforce’ instead of ‘accommodating low-income people.’ Call it ‘workforce’ for whatever reason they like.”

"We’re advocating for all of it," DiPentima said. "Market rate, workforce and big-A affordable — we need it all."

Erica covers economic development for CT Mirror. Before moving to Connecticut to join the staff she worked in Los Angeles for public radio’s Marketplace and, before that, for the Wall Street Journal's L.A. bureau. She grew up in Minneapolis, MN, graduated from Haverford College and earned a master’s in journalism from the University of Southern California.