We began the 2023 legislative session with the real hope that the Legislature would enact meaningful policy reforms to address what just about everyone acknowledged is a set of crises: the severe shortage of affordable housing in our state, disinvestment from lower-resourced communities, and inequitable housing policies faced by tenants. We coordinated Growing Together Connecticut, a strong, diverse coalition of advocates to educate the public on these issues and advance our proposals. Hundreds of people either testified in favor of these reform proposals, includingFair Share, or contacted their legislators to voice support.
As the session wore on, it was clear that we were making progress. A Fair Share bill that, just two years ago, was not considered a serious proposal, became the talk of the Legislature, and made it all the way to the last few days of the session. Some elements of our broader agenda fell by the wayside while others gained momentum. Sadly, despite the growing nature of the crisis and our best efforts, in the end too many legislators just couldn’t muster the political will to pass this comprehensive, meaningful reform. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that what was passed, in Senate Bill 998, will be a helpful step in advancing Fair Share and includes several other positive housing reforms. With regard to Fair Share, SB 998 requires an assessment of affordable housing need and an allocation to municipalities. We will be vigilant in helping to ensure that this actually happens.
With regard to other housing reforms, SB 998 includes a handful of reforms that will benefit tenants and support affordable housing production. Here are a few highlights:
Housing Voucher Values: An obligation for housing authorities to make publicly available the maximum value of their housing vouchers, an important element to permitting voucher families the opportunity to move to communities of their choice. Without information about the value of your voucher in places you might want to move, how can you know what is possible?
Eviction Records: A new requirement for the Judicial Branch to remove certain types of older eviction records from its public database. This helps to ensure that older, irrelevant records do not unfairly prevent a prospective tenant from renting a unit.
Sewer Oversight: The transfer of oversight of sewer regulatory authority for certain smaller developments from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to the Department of Public Health. This will streamline the process of approving smaller-scale multifamily housing, including those on community septic systems.
- Increased Housing Code Violation Fines: The cap on fines for housing code violations are increased from $250 to $2,000. This is an important step to ensuring that tenants are not subjected to uninhabitable living conditions in our current affordable housing stock.
Progress was also made on funding for affordable housing, including some funding increases (see this analysis from our partners at the Partnership for Strong Communities), but there was also a disappointing lack of additional investment in the state's Rental Assistance Program, which provides critical mobile vouchers for low income families, and has not seen a increase in ten years despite the seismic increases in actual rents. While remaining strongly in support of deeper investments in our cities, OCA is concerned that these investments, particularly if focused solely on deed-restricted housing and in the absence of equitable zoning reform outside of cities, will result in even more deeply entrenched lines of segregation and private market disinvestment from our cities.
Despite this, the other piece of good news is that we won’t stop trying to address this crisis. Progress is sometimes slow, and it’s not always linear. But giving up is not an option, and we have no plans to do so. We extend our heartfelt thanks to House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, Senate Majority Leader Robert Duff, and the Co-Chairs of the Housing Committee, Senator Marilyn Moore and Representative Geoff Luxenberg for their commitment to these issues.
We will use the time between now and the next legislative session to continue to educate people about the need, the solution, and the path to a better, fairer, more economically vibrant Connecticut.