Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont and Department of Housing Commissioner Seila Mosquera Bruno sat for a “fireside chat” at the state’s one-day housing conference. Shahrzad Rasekh / CT Mirror

Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday signaled early support for initiatives to increase the state’s affordable housing stock in the next legislative session, repeating his push for more housing as a way to help the state’s economy grow.

“I think housing is going to be the most important thing we do for the next three years,” Lamont said Thursday. “I believe that this is our time. And we’ll go as far as we can go, and I think housing will determine how far we can go.”

Lamont spoke Thursday to a crowd of housing developers, landlords, service providers and state employees at a housing conference organized by the Connecticut Department of Housing and the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority.

More families are moving into Connecticut after years of population decline, Lamont said, in an on-stage conversation with Department of Housing Commissioner Seila Mosquera-Bruno.

“We’ve got businesses that want to expand here, but they’re not sure they can expand here unless their workers have a place that they could live,” Lamont said. “We were one of the fastest-growing economies in the country last year. But our future will be determined by whether there’s affordable places for people to live across the state.”

The governor has frequently voiced concerns that businesses won’t move to the state or be able to grow in Connecticut unless there’s more housing that’s affordable for workers. During the last legislative session, he supported the development of what was termed “workforce housing” and building denser downtown areas with easy access to public transit for workers.

Workforce housing is a term sometimes used instead of “affordable housing” to mean housing that’s meant to offer options to workers such as teachers, service industry workers and bus drivers.

Lawmakers last session also passed a bonding package that included nearly $1 billion for housing-related projects and programs including the creation of more affordable housing, improving existing housing and encouraging homeownership. Lamont’s office had proposed $600 million for more housing development and programs to encourage homeownership, all of which was granted in the final bonding package.

Lamont praised those funding efforts Thursday after the on-stage conversation.

“For the first time in a long time, a lot of people want to be in Connecticut,” he said. “More people are moving here, businesses want to come here. But if there’s not a place for people to live, that’s going to stop.”

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont and Department of Housing Commissioner Seila Mosquera Bruno sat for a “fireside chat” at the state’s one-day housing conference. Shahrzad Rasekh / CT Mirror

But the governor has stopped short of calling for what many housing experts say is the foremost barrier to building more multi-family housing – statewide zoning reform that would force towns to build more housing or face penalties. Experts say that restrictive local zoning ordinances make it hard to build multi-family housing that tends to be more affordable to people with low incomes.

Those against such reform have said that it would dilute local control and impose one-size-fits-all solutions on towns with unique needs.

The state lacks about 89,000 units of housing that are affordable and available to its lowest-income renters.

“I’d say there’s some pushback on housing,” Lamont said. “Let’s face it, there’s a lot of ‘I like housing, but not here.’

“People talk about affordability in the state and say we’re a relatively expensive state. And we are for a variety of reasons, one of which is housing. We don’t have enough housing. We don’t have enough of all different types of housing. I always find it ironic that the people who want to say ‘No more housing’ are also the very ones who are complaining about the price of things, including housing.”

The next session is likely to see further discussion of the state’s zoning laws, advocates and lawmakers have said.

Lawmakers and advocates have also said that they want to focus on increased funding for the homelessness response system as well as more protections against eviction during the next legislative session.

Mosquera-Bruno also announced a new state grant called the Health and Housing Innovation Grant for agencies working on affordable housing issues to encourage partnerships. There are three awards available for direct service providers who partner with another group for their project. The grants are $300,000, $150,000 and $50,000.

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.