Promoting Inclusionary Zoning in Connecticut

This testimony was presented to the Planning and Development Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly by RPA Connecticut Director Melissa Kaplan-Macey on March 22, 2017 regarding Raised Bill No. 7298

Dear Members of the Planning and Development Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly,

My name is Melissa Kaplan-Macey and I am the Connecticut Director for Regional Plan Association. RPA is a research and advocacy organization that develops and promotes ideas to improve economic opportunity, mobility and sustainability in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut metropolitan region. In Connecticut, this metro region includes Fairfield, Litchfield and New Haven Counties. In the nearly 90- year history of our organization, we have developed three long-range plans, each addressing the major issues of its time. RPA is preparing to release its fourth regional plan this fall and in developing this plan, housing affordability has emerged as one of the central challenges facing our region today.

The purpose of this testimony is to state our strong support for Raised Bill No. 7298, which would require municipalities to implement regulations to promote inclusionary zoning in order to expand the number of affordable housing units in the state.

We have spent the past several years doing research and engaging communities throughout the region to understand the challenges we face and create a roadmap that will guide us toward a prosperous future. One of the most significant findings of our research is that the rising cost of living in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey threatens prosperity and quality of life for all the region’s residents, not just those who struggle to make ends meet. When incomes don’t keep pace with housing prices, the difficulties of living here outweigh the advantages. It becomes harder to attract and retain talented workers; people and companies leave. Our economy suffers. And of the three states in our region, this reality has hit Connecticut the hardest.

Over the past 20 years, housing costs have skyrocketed. In 1990, less than 25% of Connecticut households in RPA’s region spent more than 35% of their income on housing. Today, over 35% of them do. A few reasons why:

  •   Incomes have stagnated, while housing costs continue to rise.

  •   Housing supply is constrained by zoning regulations that do not allow municipalities to produce the housing necessary to meet demand, which inflates the cost of housing for everyone.

  •   10% of the housing stock is affordable in only 31 of Connecticut’s 169 municipalities- that means that over 80% of the state’s municipalities are not providing an adequate amount of affordable housing. 

This lack of affordable housing in Connecticut has serious consequences for the state’s economy. 

If land use patterns in Connecticut don’t evolve to address this housing affordability crisis, the state will continue to lose jobs and workers to other parts of the region and the country where there are more housing choices and housing is more affordable. While individual municipalities may oppose being pushed to adopt regulations to promote inclusionary housing, requiring that a certain percentage of new multifamily units constructed be affordable is an important tool for creating the housing that Connecticut desperately needs to achieve an economically sustainable future. Today teachers, firemen and landscapers can’t afford to live in the towns where they work. And in many cases the only apartment available to a recent college graduate is their parents’ basement. Young individuals and couples who grew up in Connecticut can’t afford- and in many cases don’t want to buy- a single family home in their hometown. They want and need an affordable apartment, preferably near transit, so they can get to a job, pay their bills and save for the future. If Connecticut municipalities don’t create more housing for more people, they will continue to lose people, jobs and tax revenues. This isn’t a sustainable trajectory for individual communities, and over time it will critically compromise the state’s already faltering economy.

In this time of budget crisis and economic challenge, we applaud Connecticut for introducing statewide inclusionary zoning legislation. We believe it is critical that the State of Connecticut set standards that municipalities can use to create the regulations necessary to generate more multifamily and affordable housing. This is not just about a moral imperative to do the right thing by creating more housing for more people in more places; it is a critical economic imperative for the state.