Housing Committee Tackles Controversial Affordable Housing Law

February 28, 2023 - by Christine Stuart, CT News Junkie - Snow has been a rare sight this winter, but finding affordable housing is even rarer. There are little more than 3,000 homes on the market and rents have gone up on average 20% over the past two years. 

With mortgage rates inching back up to over 6% and inflation still high, progressives and conservatives alike agree that affordable housing is a problem in Connecticut. What they don’t agree on is a solution. 

The legislature’s Housing Committee will hear testimony today starting at 11 a.m. on the issue. The legislation, a mix of Republican and Democratic backed bills, try to tackle the issue head on for renters, homeowners, and workers. 

“Anyone who takes an honest look at the housing supply in our state knows we need to be doing everything we can to create more housing, not inventing excuses to put up more barriers,” Sen. Marilyn Moore, co-chair of the Housing Committee, said. “We cannot say that we want to grow our economy, attract more residents, and make the state more affordable without creating more housing, of all kinds, in every community in Connecticut.”

She said any proposal that seeks to impede that goal is a non-starter. 

“Town lines can no longer be walls that keep out affordable housing and the people who want would occupy that housing,” Moore added. 

Moore is referring to a law that’s been on the books for more than 30 years, it’s known as 8-30g. 

The law allows developers to, in effect, override local zoning codes under certain circumstances if the municipality has less than 10% of its housing stock deemed affordable by the Department of Housing. The law allows developers to challenge a town’s refusal to approve their proposal even if it doesn’t conform to a town’s land-use regulations. 

The issue was kicked up during the recent gubernatorial election. 

Republican Bob Stefanowski argued for repeal of the law arguing Connecticut’s carrot-and-stick approach was not working. Gov. Ned Lamont has said it’s not perfect, but it’s something. 

Republican lawmakers proposed a bill that would give municipalities more freedom in setting guidelines for affordable housing. 

Scott Hobbs of the Housing Authority of New Canaan, said allowing communities to figure out what housing stock applies to the affordability challenges their residents face is a better way of handling the issue. 

“Allowing them to include naturally affordable units in their count of affordable will present a much better picture of the challenges and will help to prevent the one-size-fits-all remedy imposed by 8-30g. Forcing a uniform set of rules regarding accessory apartments is equally a bad idea,” Hobbs said. “What is a good idea in one neighborhood or town may be wildly inappropriate in another. These sort of decisions need to be made at a local level.”

Republicans also want accessory dwelling units to count toward the 8-30g moratorium. 

Opponents of the measure say it dilutes Connecticut’s 8-30g law. 

Jeanne Milstein, of the New London Human Services Network, wrote in testimony that the Republican proposal would “weaken Section 8-30g.” She said the bill would not create additional affordable homes and would allow towns to count homes that are not affordable toward its affordable housing goal. 

“At present, 43 towns in the state have a third or more of its households qualifying as “cost-burdened,” meaning household costs account for more than 30% of monthly income. And across the state, there are 250,000 households paying more than 50% of their income towards housing costs. This leaves little leftover to pay for other necessities, including food, transportation, and healthcare,” Jim Horan, executive director of LISC Connecticut, wrote in his testimony. 

“While no one will argue the benefits of tax abatements for low- and moderate-income homeowners over the age of 65, this bill is designed not to focus this relief to the greatest households in need, but rather to inflate affordable housing numbers, without creating new housing or adding housing that has any extended length of affordability and protections,” he added. 

More than 276 people have signed up to testify today.

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