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

Increasing rents and home prices, few homes available for sale, rising eviction and foreclosure filings, families struggling to stay housed: This is the state of housing in Connecticut.

This is not what I want for my aging mother, my family, or my kids’ future and neither should you. Creating more affordable homes is imperative to the future of our state. 

Any person or entity that suggests otherwise does not have our state’s best interests in mind.   

Sean Ghio

Gov. Ned Lamont wants more taxpayers not more taxes — an undeniably smart strategy for making Connecticut more successful. Not long ago, Connecticut embraced newcomers and made it much easier for them to find homes. Between 1950 and 1970, Connecticut’s population grew by 1 million people. This 50% population growth in just 20 years was due to many economic and demographic factors but it would not have been possible if we had not embraced housing growth. In the 1960s, Connecticut issued over 20,000 housing permits annually, while in the last 10 years, that average has plummeted to only 5,000.

So why aren’t towns allowing more homes to be built?

There has been a lot of disinformation around housing this year particularly from a New Canaan real estate agent and a public relations person from affluent Fairfield county. They call themselves “CT169strong” and purport to represent the diverse voices of our state. We’ve heard that low population growth indicates we couldn’t possibly need more housing. Soaring rents and housing prices tell a different story.

Perhaps, our population growth has been curtailed precisely because we make it so hard for anyone to afford a home. Town leaders and residents have made deliberate policy choices to stifle housing growth. By disallowing small lot homes, townhouses, or small apartment buildings, these towns effectively exclude young families, downsizing seniors, and the essential workers upon whom we all rely. These community members, your parents, your children, your grandchildren, can’t live where we need and want them.

Modern zoning practices have a troubling history of exclusion, perpetuating a long legacy of racial and economic exclusion that persists to this day. We’ve heard that these are all in the past. How could it be past when we still live under these purposely exclusionary rules? Local zoning regulations and the unnecessarily long discretionary approval processes associated with them serve as major roadblocks to building new homes – Facts I know all too well. 

As a town planner, a planning commissioner, and an advocate, I’ve worked with towns for years finding ways to grow the number of affordable homes. While it made sense initially to work with local officials on most land use decisions, we must now confront the reality that this approach has proven ineffective in many areas. I now understand the state must act. Governor Lamont supports towns acting independently, but what is to be done about those towns whose leaders and residents refuse to accept their responsibility?

Towns have a legal responsibility to plan for the housing needs of their residents and their region. Town leaders fail to meet the needs of their own residents when they consistently reject every attempt to construct affordable homes. Every town has residents that need affordable housing. You might be surprised to learn how many of your neighbors are burdened by their housing costs. Statewide, more than half of all families who rent their homes struggle to afford their rent.

Lower-cost “naturally occurring affordable” homes aren’t being built because many towns across our state simply don’t allow it. Families with housing vouchers struggle to find rental homes in many towns because these towns actively prevent the creation of rental homes. When a town’s rules mandate that every home must have its own large piece of land, often an acre or more, it becomes impossible to construct homes that are affordable for many families. The loud exclusionist voices that shout down nearly every housing proposal at your local planning meetings do not represent the collective voice in our communities. 

We have listened to the voices of NO for too long. The legislature is considering several housing bills including $600 million in bond funding for affordable housing in the proposed budget, omnibus bills H.B. 6781 and S.B. 4, and Work Live Ride. These actions are crucial and should be passed, but we will need to do more. 

Governor Lamont is right, we need to welcome more people to our beautiful state, and we must make Connecticut a place where all residents can find a home in a community of their choice where they can truly thrive. We must demand it.

Sean Ghio is Policy Director of The Partnership for Strong Communities.