'Deal with it head on': Report highlights zoning disparities affecting affordable housing

A lack of land for multi-family homes, limited infrastructure and local zoning restrictions are among the challenges faced in increasing towns’ affordable housing supply, according to a new report from Open Communities Alliance.

“The easier you make it, the less it’s going to cost and the more you’re probably going to get,” Roger Maldonado, an attorney with the organization, said at a presentation Thursday evening.

The report, Zoning for Equity, examines 12 Connecticut towns that have low percentages of affordable housing, including Darien, North Haven, Southbury, Fairfield, Ridgefield, Orange and Westport.

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Woodbridge zoning officials take a small step toward affordable housing

Facing pressure to allow more than just expensive single-family homes to be built in Woodbridge, local zoning officials voted Monday to allow multi-family housing to be built on a sliver of land — provided such projects are first vetted through public hearing and subject to approval from the local Planning and Zoning Commission.

The decision comes more than eight months after a coalition of civil rights attorneys and a developer teamed up to challenge this suburban town’s zoning practices that left it with virtually no affordable housing – and segregated. The share of Black or Latino residents living in this suburb that borders New Haven is one-third the share living throughout the state.

Nearly everywhere in Woodbridge requires 1.5 acres to build a single family home, and only 35 housing units in town are reserved for low-income residents, nearly all of which are solely for elderly residents. Until Monday, Woodbridge essentially prohibited multi-family housing everywhere in its borders.

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Zoning commissioners in Woodbridge approve housing reforms. Civil rights group had sought far-reaching changes in zoning rules.

Town plan and zoning commissioners in Woodbridge approved a series of proposals Monday evening that will enable the creation of accessory dwelling units and expand certain types of multifamily housing in their small, wealthy suburb of New Haven.

The approved proposals, which commission chairman Robert Klee called a “significant step forward for our town,” will diversify the town’s housing stock — which is currently dominated by single-family homes — and make the development of some multi-unit housing more possible. Still, the commission’s decision reflects a significant paring-down of a bid by the Open Communities Alliance, a Hartford-based civil rights organization, and students from a Yale Law School housing clinic to implement far-reaching zoning reforms in Woodbridge, a town of 8,750.

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Woodbridge officials say they want to sign off on all multi-unit developments

Zoning officials in the well-off suburban town of Woodbridge seem unlikely to allow developers to build multi-unit dwellings there without special permission.

The request from civil rights attorneys to change the way affordable housing is approved in Woodbridge has become the focus of housing advocates across the state, as what happens in Woodbridge could eventually have widespread ramifications.

Convinced the town’s zoning regulations keep low-income residents from being able to move into town — and keep the town segregated — civil rights attorneys from the Open Communities Alliance and a fair housing Clinic at Yale Law School are also asking the town to throw out its prohibition on multi-family housing and its rule that only single-family homes can be built on a 1.5-acre lot nearly everywhere in town.

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Opinion: Housing segregation in Woodbridge echoes a pattern of inequality across the state; not enough people care

The saddest part of the housing controversy facing Woodbridge and its residents — the likelihood it will be sued if it rejects a small, affordable housing project on a single-family lot — is that it didn’t have to happen.

The most hopeful part? It still doesn’t.

The jam Woodbridge has gotten itself into — allowing virtually no housing for the folks who cut their lawns, make their lattes, care for their elderly parents, teach their children — is a jam lots of Connecticut towns could soon face.

Dozens of municipalities don’t allow multifamily housing: apartments, condos, and technically, more than one unit on a parcel — and dozens more use their zoning regulations and purposely don’t provide water and sewer infrastructure to severely limit the less expensive homes many people need.

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How one bike ride inspired a case that could upend CT’s zoning laws

On a sunny spring afternoon in 2016, Richard Freedman went on a bike ride through New Canaan.

The housing developer was fresh off a disappointment. He had applied to build housing for low-income people in Westport, but his plan had just been rejected.

As he rode through the hillsides that afternoon — where mansions with gated entrances were separated from each other by four acres and stone walls — Freedman wondered whether civil rights groups or developers would ever find a way to change zoning laws so that more than one housing unit could be built on these huge lots. The properties take up most of the town and largely shut out those who need affordable housing.

New Canaan is one of the state’s most affluent and racially isolated communities, and Freedman had been turned away from building affordable housing there a few years earlier.

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Controversial housing reform stumbles but Democrats vow to revive it

A controversial bill that would make it easier to file lawsuits against towns if they didn’t support new affordable housing, has quietly died amid a Republican threat to filibuster the issue in a crucial legislative committee.

The bill was a centerpiece of desegregation, zoning and economic development policy for advocates and liberal Democrats who saw 2021 as a chance to make progress in a decades-old battle. Hopes for a clean path to voted in the House and Senate ended late Monday.

But House Majority Leader Jason Rojas said Tuesday that it’s a minor setback in one of his chief goals for the legislative session: promoting affordable housing units throughout the state to foster economic growth.

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A fight over building apartments in mainly white Woodbridge has become a flashpoint in the debate over racial equity in Connecticut. Here’s why.

The contrast between New Haven and its suburban neighbor Woodbridge is impossible to miss.

In the city, duplexes and triplexes are packed side by side, with cars and motorcycles zipping through busy streets. Just over the line in Woodbridge, the urban density gives way to a colonnade of trees. Single-family homes, separated by wide lawns and stone walls, sit far back from the road.

The differences run far deeper than what is visible. In New Haven, a city of 130,000, the median household income is $42,222; in Woodbridge, a town of 8,750, it’s $157,610, nearly four times larger. New Haven residents are less than half white, 5% Asian, about a third Latinx and a third Black, while those in Woodbridge are more than three-quarters white, about 15% Asian and less than 10% Black and Latinx.

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What We Talk About When We Talk About Affordable Housing

Affordable housing is the subject of a number of bills in Connecticut right now. But what do we really mean when we talk about "affordable housing"?

That conversation could start with a question much like the one asked by State Senator Dan Champagne at a virtual Planning and Development public hearing last week.

"Do you know how many affordable housing units exist in Connecticut?" Champagne asked of Sara Bronin.

...

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Opinion: How Connecticut Towns Maintain Segregation

Is current zoning upholding racial discrimination and segregation? The simple answer is yes.

Our communities were built on zoning policy that was explicitly racist, and current practices maintain the status quo. Anyone seeking to better understand U.S. housing policy should read The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein. The author traces the historical racial discrimination in housing and banking policy to the wealth disparities seen today.

Black families blocked from homeownership were prevented from building wealth, which directly correlates to modern-day wealth gaps. Black families were further blocked from accessing rental housing in suburban communities by zoning practices that prevented multifamily developments. Black families remained poorer and more likely to be renters, and today disproportionately benefit from access to affordable housing—both in rental and affordable homeownership efforts.

So, creating affordability and choice is fundamental to achieving desegregation.

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  • Open Communities Alliance
  • 75 Charter Oak Avenue
  • Suite 1-200
  • Hartford, CT 06106
  • Phone: 860-610-6040