Comment on Zoning Proposal - LCO 3562


Open Communities Alliance Statement on

Recent Zoning and Housing Desegregation Proposal

LCO 3562

Open Communities Alliance is thrilled to witness the outpouring of support for measures to address Connecticut’s deep racial and ethnic segregation.  We are also excited to see policy recommendations coming from groups such as the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, the Senate Democrats, Health Equity Solutions, and a newly formed coalition called Desegregate CT. The opportunity to meaningfully address the deep levels of segregation in CT will be powerful if these entities, OCA, and others, can work in concert to advance a shared agenda.

One of the first proposals to get traction is LCO 3562. Portions of the bill are based on the work over the past several years of Open Communities Alliance and a number of other partners, including the Partnership for Strong Communities and the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, who participated in the Fair Housing Task Force convened by then-Governor Malloy’s Commissioner of the Department of Housing, Evonne Klein, and Rep. Roland Lamar. The Bill is based on previously proposed language reforming zoning and expanding the jurisdiction of housing authorities. It also adds some robust improvements to the state’s zoning statute, CGS Sec. 8-2, including an enforcement provision, the promotion of smaller scale “gentle density development”, and modernizing and streamlining sewage requirements.

Unfortunately, the bill also includes elements that take us backwards rather than forwards if passed in its current form. These concerns are easily addressed, as we set forth below.

Concerns with LCO 3562

It Removes the Current Obligation to Allow Multifamily Housing: In its current form CGS Sec. 8-2 requires that all towns in Connecticut allow multifamily housing (and housing for low- and moderate-income households in their regions, etc.). The Bill deletes this requirement and replaces it with  a requirement that towns permit, in certain areas, Accessory Dwelling Units (in-law apartments), middle housing (generally up to only 4 units), and mixed use including at least 4 units (which would require the construction of commercial space, difficult to finance and lease up in the current market) - in other words, the bill adopts a zoning approach called “gentle density” at the expense of medium to larger-scale multi-family housing. 

This kind of “gentle density” can make good planning sense in some cases and is more palatable to suburban, predominately white towns that have zoning designed to make affordable/multifamily housing development difficult or impossible. It is a piece of the solution. It is not, however, the entire solution. Without a true, unqualified multifamily requirement, like CGS Sec. 8-2 currently has, Connecticut is never going to be able to provide the affordable units needed in the state.

OCA estimates that there are an estimated 136,000 households – not including currently homeless people – in CT that are extremely low income (30% of AMI) and severely housing-cost burdened (paying more than 50% of their income towards rent).  Beyond that, there are many more low-income households, those for example at 40% AMI paying 40% of their income towards housing costs, who need affordable housing.  Maintaining the existing requirement that towns allow multifamily housing is not only essential to meet the overall volume of units needed; it is also an unavoidable economic reality of the scale of projects typically needed, under existing affordable housing programs, to provide units that are affordable to low and very low-income families.

It Allows Towns to Limit “Gentle Density” to certain parts of town, and to Only 10% of Land: Not only does the Bill seem to limit what multifamily means, it also will be seen as limiting the areas of a town where multifamily must be allowed.  Indeed, we are worried that by trying to further spell out towns’ zoning obligations in regard to multifamily housing opportunities, the Bill will (unintentionally) lessen the obligations that towns already have under CGS Sec. 8-2 by creating a floor of 10% of the each town’s land that must permit gentle density and limiting the areas where towns must zone for multifamily housing only to areas near transit hubs or commercial areas, thus exempting much of the residential land area in towns from any duty to allow multifamily development. 

This provision is out of sync with the emerging trend around the country, where similar efforts have covered much larger portions of towns' land area, including 100% of residential area (see e.g. the current law in Oregon).  The national trend is not surprising: a 10% cap is completely insufficient given the need for affordable housing and sets a very low bar for towns. It is essentially a plan to fail and to continue to remain segregated.  Furthermore, this provision could be implemented in a manner that creates poverty concentration within towns that are otherwise wealthy - so in a segregating manner.

In sum, gentle density is not a replacement for multifamily housing, including, frankly and as much as suburban communities may resist it, apartment buildings. The state of Connecticut already requires that towns zone for a fair portion of the regional need for affordable housing.  Meaningful zoning reform will ensure that the current obligation is honored by towns.

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