Testimony on Fair Housing in Connecticut

Testimony in support of HB 5045 and HB 5482

March 16, 2018

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, once in a generation, long- range plans, each addressing the major issues of its time. RPA released our Fourth Regional Plan (http://fourthplan.org/) this past October. In this Fourth Plan housing affordability is identified as one of the central challenges facing our region today.

The purpose of this testimony is to state our strong support for HB 5045 and HB 5482, which would assist municipalities with their obligation to affirmatively further fair housing.

In developing the Fourth Regional Plan 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. Over the past 20 years, housing costs in our state 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 housing affordable to low and moderate income families in Connecticut has serious consequences for the state’s economy.

The Governor and the Department of Housing recognize that 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 housing is more affordable. HB No. 5045 and HB No. 5482 provide municipalities with the tools they need to affirmatively further fair housing.

We applaud the proposed amendments to the Zoning Enabling Act (C.G.S. 8-2) outlined in both bills, which would strengthen the language of the statute with respect to municipalities’ obligation to promote housing choice and economic diversity in housing and provide a new enforcement mechanism for municipalities that do not comply with their obligation to further the purposes of the Federal Fair Housing Act. Given that zoning has been used as an exclusionary tool in the past and has greatly contributed to the patterns of segregation that continue today, it stands to reason that zoning can and should be used to reverse these patterns by providing genuine housing choice in all communities, especially if the state as a whole is providing funding to support the infrastructure and services in these communities. This, coupled with requiring proactive demonstrations of compliance and the ability to withhold funding from municipalities that continue to engage in exclusionary zoning practices, represents a strong commitment to fair housing which RPA strongly supports.

We also strongly support HB 5482’s proposal for statewide inclusionary zoning, especially the coupling of the requirements with a density bonus. While there are many different considerations – such as construction type, local housing market, and other incentives available for affordable housing – increasing density to allow both more market-rate as well as more affordable housing generally helps development feasibility by allowing both economies of scale and additional market-rate development to offset the potential financial impact of providing below-market housing. For the times when this may not be this case, the proposed mechanism to relieve this burden is simple and fair, involving information and calculations that are already part of the pre-development process, and going through the agency which is already charged with being the point of contact for developers. We encourage the state to make sure that there is adequate funding for this process, and to ensure that the process is expeditious and transparent.

In this time of budget crisis and economic challenge, we applaud Connecticut for introducing these pieces of 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 housing affordable to low and moderate income families. 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.

Respectfully, 

Melissa Kaplan Macey

Connecticut Director