To achieve meaningful housing choice and racial desegregation – and finally make good on the national commitment issued over 50 years ago with the passage of the Fair Housing Act – expanding access to higher opportunity communities must go hand in hand with equitably revitalizing long-neglected, disinvested communities.
Open Communities Alliance supports the cross-cutting agenda issued by the Urban Hope Coalition, of which OCA is a member.
We are also inspired to see the proposals issued by the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, the Senate Democrats, Health Equity Solutions, and a newly formed coalition called Desegregate CT.
- Support a Racially Conscious COVID-19 Response. Prevent an eviction and foreclosure tsunami, ensure appropriate testing and protective equipment, particularly in hard hit Black and Latino communities, and prioritize the provision of public education in a manner that is equitable, ensuring every district and every student has the resources necessary to meet students’ needs while not endangering students or teachers.
- We are also inspired to see the proposals issued by the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, the Senate Democrats, Health Equity Solutions, and a newly formed coalition called Desegregate CT.
On housing-specific proposals, OCA recommends bills that advance the following concepts:
1. A state Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing law. In a shocking move, the Trump administration recently dismantled the regulatory obligation of U.S. Housing and Urban Development grant recipients, including the state of Connecticut, to take intentional steps to reverse the history of government policies designed to generate racial segregation. It is time for Connecticut to adopt a meaningful state law that ensures that our state will undertake these efforts, long required by the Fair Housing Act, despite the Trump administration’s unconscionable – and illegal – disregard of these statutory obligations. This includes:
Adopt Fair Share Planning and Zoning. In accordance with existing law, including the federal and state Fair Housing Acts, the state Zoning Enabling Act (CGS Sec. 8-2), municipal Plan and Conservation and Development obligations under CGS Sec. 8-23, and the state constitutional anti-segregation clause (Article First, Section 20), adopting a state and municipal planning regime that ensures proper implementation of longstanding zoning obligations by directing the state and towns to plan for and implement strategies to ensure that affordable housing is available in every town in the state on a fair share basis - meaning every town zones to allow enough affordable housing to meet its appropriate share of the regional need.
Create a Zoning Equal Playing Field. With OCA's recommended corrections [include link to below], ensure that every town in the state continues to be required to permit multifamily housing, not just limited to smaller scale "gentle density," and that that other barriers to affordable housing be addressed across the board in municipal zoning ordinances. This can be accomplished through amendments to LCO 3562. See OCA's recommendations here.
Subsidized Housing Goal Setting and Data Collection. Require the state to articulate goals for the balanced location of subsidized housing throughout the state and engage in periodic reporting to assess progress.
- Expand and Clarify Current Obligations to Undo Segregation & Make them Enforceable. CT's current law on affirmatively furthering fair housing is limited to two agencies that oversee subsidized housing when many more are actually involved. The performance expectations must be made more concrete, reportable, and subject to clearer enforcement.
- Adopt Fair Share Planning and Zoning. In accordance with existing law, including the federal and state Fair Housing Acts, the state Zoning Enabling Act (CGS Sec. 8-2), municipal Plan and Conservation and Development obligations under CGS Sec. 8-23, and the state constitutional anti-segregation clause (Article First, Section 20), adopting a state and municipal planning regime that ensures proper implementation of longstanding zoning obligations by directing the state and towns to plan for and implement strategies to ensure that affordable housing is available in every town in the state on a fair share basis - meaning every town zones to allow enough affordable housing to meet its appropriate share of the regional need.
2. Investments in Lower-Resourced Communities. A foundational cornerstone to Open Communities Alliance's theory of change is that investments be made in opportunity-isolated communities to support equitable revitalization. These investments should include supporting proven strategies to promote economic and community development, equitable school funding that recognizes disparate needs across communities, equalizing property tax burdens across the state, and promoting small and "minority" businesses. See the full agenda of the Urban Hope Coalition for additional policy proposals.
3. A Mobility Package for Housing Voucher Holders. Entrenched policies and practices prevent government housing voucher holders enrolled in programs like the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program and the state's Rental Assistance Program from accessing neighborhoods of their choice. A suite of policy proposals can counteract these forces.
Expand the Jurisdiction of Housing Authorities. As the result of a state law, housing authorities cannot develop housing beyond their town borders and typically lose money if they help a voucher holder interested in moving out of the housing authority's jurisdiction (i.e. its town). This prevents housing authorities from becoming full partners in affirmatively furthering fair housing and limits choices for voucher families interested in moving to higher opportunity areas. OCA's housing authority jurisdiction expansion bill would change that.
Adopt Small Area Fair Market Rents Statewide. The value of federal housing vouchers is set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on a regional basis by bedroom size. This means that the program assumes the rent for a two bedroom in Bridgeport is about the same as for a two-bedroom apartment in Westport, when that is simply not the case. New zip code level voucher values called Small Area Fair Market Rents (SAFMRs) have been developed by HUD and implemented in the Hartford region and 23 other areas around the country as the result of OCA's successful 2018 lawsuit Open Communities Alliance v. HUD. Thus far, the rollout of this new rent formula in the Hartford region has worked well. It should be implemented statewide. Any temporary financial effects on housing authorities, which are not expected to be significant, should be off-set in the first year by the state. HUD will support any increases after that point.
Expand the State's Mobility Counseling Program. Mobility counseling is a counseling intervention that is highly effective for empowering voucher families interested in moving to higher opportunity areas to do so. Programs in Seattle, Dallas, Chicago, and Baltimore have demonstrated how effective mobility counseling can be. Connecticut's program has recently been rebooted at a low level of funding from non-budget sources. This program needs to be funded at a level of $1 million a year over the next 10 years to ensure that at least 10% of voucher holders can have appropriate support exercising choice in housing.
- Support Specialized Vouchers. In order to counteract the decades of policies that have meant upwards of 70% of voucher holders live in our state's lowest-resourced communities, Connecticut should create two types of specialized voucher programs.
(1) An Open Choice Voucher Program should be created to support income-qualifying families already participating in the Open Choice School desegregation program who would like to move to the community where their children attend school or a similar community. Once a family moves to their new community, their Open Choice school desegregation program seat would become available to a new family.
(2) A Healthy Housing Voucher Pilot Program should be created to empower income-qualifying families with children experiencing negative outcomes due to neighborhood environmental conditions, such as asthma, move to neighborhoods likely to produce better health outcomes.