House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, and House Speaker Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, speak with the media on the floor of the House after Gov. Ned Lamont's State of the State speech on Jan. 4, 2023. Stephen Busemeyer / CT Mirror

After weeks of negotiations, members of the House of Representatives on Friday said their signature housing bill contains no measures for zoning reform and is unlikely to meaningfully grow Connecticut’s affordable housing stock, while many of the state’s poorest residents struggle to find an affordable place to live.

Early drafts of House Bill 6781 released Thursday afternoon included requirements that the state assess the need for affordable housing and divide that need between towns. Towns would then have to plan and zone for a certain number of units, with focus on increasing the amount of housing near train and bus stations.

But Friday morning, House Democratic leadership announced that the bill had been stripped of the “fair share” provision, which requires towns to zone for more affordable housing. Instead, it’s focused on tenant protections and rental housing quality.

The bill is set to include increases for code violation fines and changes to the amount of time certain eviction records are posted online, among other measures. But when asked about what it does to increase the affordable housing stock, House Majority Leader Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, was definitive.

“Nothing. That’s the problem,” Rojas said.

House Speaker Rep. Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, suggested that zoning reform may have to be accomplished through the courts, rather than the state legislature. A policy similar to the proposed “fair share” measure was implemented in New Jersey through the courts, and last year a group of advocates filed a suit against the town of Woodbridge for its zoning practices.

Questioned Friday, Gov. Ned Lamont said he wants to leave zoning decisions to towns and leave developers to push for affordable housing in towns resistant to the idea using court remedies under the 8-30g statute.

“Obviously the court, at the end of the day will adjudicate on the 8-30g,” Lamont said Friday. “But look, I’m trying to avoid 8-30g. I’m trying to avoid lawsuits and trying to tell municipalities ‘Step forward, show us your plan, rezone it in a way that we can get development going faster.’”

Restrictive zoning

The issue has been a political hot potato in Connecticut for years. It’s faced fierce opposition, particularly from residents and lawmakers in Fairfield County. They’ve said the bills are onerous, weaken local control and impose one-size-fits-all solutions.

Connecticut lacks tens of thousands of units of housing that are affordable and available to its lowest income renters. Housing is typically considered affordable if residents pay up to a third of their income to housing costs. Thousands of Connecticut residents spend much larger portions of their income on rent.

Experts have said that restrictive local zoning ordinances pose serious barriers to building multi-family housing in Connecticut. Multi-family units tend to be more affordable to people with low incomes.

Research has also tied exclusionary zoning to racial segregation, meaning that in Connecticut, people of color often are kept out of certain towns, school districts and some municipal beaches. Where a person lives is also linked to their health outcomes.

Erin Boggs, executive director at Open Communities Alliance, issued a statement about the “fair share” measure Friday that outlined the groups’ efforts to work with lawmakers to make the bill more palatable.

“To those who will claim ‘victory’ about this development, you are responsible for perpetuating the housing crisis the state faces,” Boggs statement reads. “You are holding back our economy, and for continuing to make Connecticut an unaffordable place to live for young people starting their first jobs, for middle-class workers who don’t make a ton of money, and for seniors who desperately want to stay in the communities they’ve lived in their entire lives. You are, even today, too often acting in violation of state statutes and the state constitution, which require towns to advance economic opportunity and to tackle segregation.”

Republican House Leader Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said Friday that his party wasn’t included on negotiations about the housing bill and that it was too big.

“So I did hear the fair housing piece was stripped out. And I think what that says for this chamber is that we should not be crafting legislation in the dark,” Candelora said. “And I think that was a bill that was too big to be done in secret. It was very hard to get support around it.”

While zoning measures were pulled from the House omnibus bill, Rojas said that a bill known as Work, Live, Ride may still be on the table. It would use certain state funding to incentivize towns to increase residential density near public transportation hubs.

The policy would establish zoning reform in some towns in Connecticut, but has less reach than the “fair share” policy.

Friday’s abrupt announcement at the end of a legislative session that’s been marked by a focus on housing begs the question: What will it take to get zoning reform through in Connecticut?


Much of the opposition in the Democratic caucus stems from Fairfield County, Rojas said.

He referred to it as a “hoarding of social capital,” in an interview Friday. The House leaders said Friday that they’d like to see more leadership on zoning from Lamont’s office.

Lamont has consistently said he supports local control and prefers incentive-based approaches to mandates when it comes to affordable housing. This session, he’s thrown support behind transit-oriented development such as Work, Live, Ride — provided it’s incentive-based.

Opponents to that measure have said that the method of awarding certain state infrastructure funding to municipalities that opt in is more of a mandate than a real choice.

Lamont has also spoken often about the economic boon that more housing would provide.

“Every single business leader I talked to says ‘It’s great, you’ve got workforce training, and we’ve got work skills out there,’” Lamont said at a press conference last month. “‘We have jobs to fill. Where are they going to live?’ It’s an absolute necessity in terms of the workforce.”

Asked about the call for more leadership, Lamont reiterated previous statements. He also pointed to the $600 million in bonding over two years he’s called for to build more housing and encourage homeownership in Connecticut.

“Like I said, I think every town has got to come forward with their plan and tell us how they want to meet needs,” Lamont said. “Housing is about making sure your grandparents can downsize and find the place in town so they grow up next to their grandkids. It’s an opportunity for their kids to maybe move to a bigger house. That’s the flow right now. We have a real shortage of housing that’s costing us big time.”

Advocates have said that many towns in the state are resistant to building more affordable housing and often deny building permits from affordable housing developers. More than half didn’t make the deadline last summer to submit their affordable housing plans to the state and close to 30 still haven’t done so.

As Democratic leadership works with the desires of their caucus, they face a challenge on zoning. Asked who will break through the political roadblock, Rojas’ disappointment was clear as he told reporters it might be up to an outcry from the general public or private businesses.

“Unfortunately, I don’t know — a worse crisis? I don’t know, it will take the people of the state of Connecticut demanding that we do something on it,” he said.

“And I think employers too,” Ritter offered. 

“Yeah, at some point. And employers, you know, offered a little bit of help on housing, but I don’t think that they were ready to do something that’s more demanding,” Rojas said. “Incentives feel a lot nicer.”

Mark Pazniokas contributed reporting.

Ginny is CT Mirror's children's issues and housing reporter and a Report for America corps member. She covers a variety of topics ranging from child welfare to affordable housing and zoning. Ginny grew up in Arkansas and graduated from the University of Arkansas' Lemke School of Journalism in 2017. She began her career at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette where she covered housing, homelessness, and juvenile justice on the investigations team. Along the way Ginny was awarded a 2019 Data Fellowship through the Annenberg Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California. She moved to Connecticut in 2021.