What happens when the need for affordable housing in an increasingly expensive state clashes with environmental concerns heightened by the arrival of climate change?
Local inland wetlands commission meetings get a lot more interesting.
Under Connecticut law, towns must regulate development affecting inland wetlands and watercourses, which they do through local agencies whose specific names and processes vary from place to place. And in one community after another, these agencies have been the sites of bitter housing debates, often derailing developments before they can even reach local zoning boards.
"We all want to protect our environment," said Erin Boggs, executive director of the non-profit Open Communities Alliance, which advocates for affordable housing. "And we really don't want to see our important environmental laws abused."
Boggs says some communities seem to hold affordable housing to higher standards than other forms of development, using environmental regulations as a "NIMBY tool" (referring to the popular acronym for "not in my backyard").
"There are people who are opposed to affordable housing, who are trying to use our environmental laws as a tool to keep out much-needed housing at various levels of affordability," Boggs said. "It's really dangerous."
In recent years, Connecticut has faced a growing housing crisis, with fewer units available than ever before and prices soaring in part as a result. To address the problem, advocates say, communities must be willing to allow affordable multi-family housing, maybe even public housing, in places it doesn't currently exist.
New development, however, has often been a hard sell for towns looking to preserve property values and local character. According to one recent report from the Office of Legislative Research, 93 of the state's 169 towns have less than 5 percent affordable housing, as defined by the state.
Environmental protection or 'NIMBY tool'? Inland wetlands agencies growing site of CT housing fights, Alex Putterman, CT Insider, Nov. 25, 2023, available here