Legislators scramble for solutions to Connecticut’s housing crisis

The Connecticut Housing crisis has gotten worse and less affordable. Photo by Nicola Barts/Pexels.

Connecticut’s deepening affordable housing crisis shows no signs of slowing down as legislators and activists grapple with solutions to an ever-increasing shortage of homes. According to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Connecticut’s single-family housing inventories have dropped 80% in the past six years while an index of housing prices has increased by 44%.  

This significant shortage of homes and sharp increase in prices is a natural result of increased demand following the worst effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Without the expanding supply needed to meet demand, renters have faced similar troubles. Data by the U.S. Census Bureau ranks Connecticut the worst state in the country for rental vacancy rates, 3.5% less than the national average and a sharp decrease of 59% from 2021 state figures. Landlords have noticed, hiking rates across the state and sparking calls for further tenant protections.  

Widely attended public hearings in late February drew attention to HB 6588, which would have adopted a 4% cap on annual rent increases, adjusted for inflation. While the rent cap and further tenant protections were supported by a supermajority of Connecticut residents and a broad coalition of tenant rights activists, The Housing Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly decided against advancing the bill. 

“We need to really take a deep dive into this to make sure we are doing something that’s fair and equitable on both sides,” Senator Marilyn Moore (D) remarked about the decision, as reported in the CT Mirror

Moore noted that the Housing Committee, of which she co-chairs, was still able to bring twenty-five bills out of committee which deal with a range of topics related to constituents’ enduring housing concerns.  

Two enormous omnibus bills, HB 6781 and SB 4, cover a variety of issues related to housing in the state, including punishment for improper and unsanitary living conditions, the loosening of eviction records and an increase in taxes on the purchase of real estate for large investors, who have been accused of buying out housing in order to lease at inflated prices. 

To address a lack of housing supply, the bills establish a task force to investigate the “conversion of… shopping malls, hotels, and warehouses” into affordable housing. Continued supply chain disruption, the cost of land, and the policies of local governments have left the building of new housing rife with challenges. An emphasis on already constructed and underutilized properties could provide valuable new supply for the housing market. 

A particularly controversial topic within the legislature and Connecticut at large is zoning reform. Up for debate is the status of Connecticut’s 8-30g housing law, which gives developers leverage over towns that reject requests for affordable housing proposals. Municipalities and local governments are exempt from developers’ increased leverage to construct if they already have set 10% of their housing at affordable standards. The law is designed to safeguard affordable housing especially in wealthy areas, but its opponents are unconvinced. 

Republicans have proposed bills to expand the definition of affordable housing that can be covered by the 10% rule, arguing that 8-30g in its current state is fundamentally flawed and does little to increase the rates of affordable housing in Connecticut. They cited desires to decrease the authority of Hartford in local government processes and lessen burdens on smaller communities who have to adjust to regulation.  

Housing advocates, on the other hand, want to go even farther with statewide reform, including implementing a “fair share” policy that would require towns to zone and plan for the amount of affordable housing units that their communities need. Essentially, the policy would function as a mandate for a certain amount of affordable housing based on a variety of local factors. 

“There is a role for every town in Connecticut in meeting the affordable housing needs of all Connecticut residents,” writes the pro-fair share group Open Communities Alliance, “The system allows planning and zoning commissions flexibility and control… while providing a reasonable assessment of each town’s responsibility”.  

Activists stress the need to increase supply and promote pro-growth national policies to stave off a perceived anti-growth atmosphere permeating local politics. 

“Lamont is too afraid to challenge the wealthy NIMBY homeowners who have captured local planning and zoning commissions,” writes Stamford housing advocate Dice Oh in a CT Mirror opinion piece

“Connecticut is at risk of falling behind on housing,” he continues, “Other states… are taking the lead, aggressively pushing for housing supply expansion by invoking state power over local zoning.” 

Other organizations have different ideas. 

CT 169 Strong, a collection of advocacy groups built upon “fight[ing] back for local zoning control,” takes a different approach to the idea of a fair share housing policy. 

“Land is finite and unique – do not pass all size fits all legislation!,” CT 169 Strong argues, claiming the collection of housing bills are a “total loss of local planning and zoning control for every city, suburb, and rural community in CT.” 

Coupled with their defense of the rights and interests of local communities is a criticism of the affordability of Connecticut at large and the policies of the state government. According to a US News report, the cost of living in Connecticut ranks 46 out of 50 U.S. states, while taxpayer surveys continue to label Connecticut residents as one of the most highly-taxed populations in the country.  

With a shortage of 85,000 affordable rental units, according to the Governor’s latest economic report, along with a surge in evictions and a rise in homelessness for the first time in nearly a decade, Connecticut’s affordability crisis shows no signs of letting up. The state’s leaders have made solving it one of their foremost priorities.  

“The biggest slam to our affordability and economic growth is housing, or the lack thereof,” Governor Ned Lamont expressed in his 2023 State of the State Address, “Connecticut towns and cities, you tell us where developers can build more housing… and local control will determine how and where it is built.” 


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