CT DOH official opposed ‘fair share’ housing policy, emails show

Internal emails exchanged among high ranking officials at Connecticut’s Department of Housing last year reveal deep fissures between top Democratic lawmakers and higher-ups in the executive branch on a zoning reform policy idea known as “fair share.”

The back-and-forth between higher-ups at the Department of Housing shows that in 2023, as lawmakers were debating the fair share policy, staff lodged staunch objections to the idea. The emails, obtained by The Connecticut Mirror through a public records request, have left some lawmakers questioning DOH’s commitment to reducing racial and economic housing segregation.

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Housing Group Fights to Keep ‘Fair Share’ Study on Track

An advocate group is pushing for the state’s “fair share” housing study to be completed by its original December deadline, in time for lawmakers to reintroduce legislation addressing Connecticut’s housing needs next year.

Despite a monthslong delay in finding a contractor, ECOnorthwest, to conduct the study, Erin Boggs, executive director of the Open Communities Alliance, said the report’s subsequent postponement until June 2025 is a breach of state statute.

“The RFP that has now been awarded to a contractor. And the RFP says that it will have draft numbers by January 2025 and the full study won’t be done until June 2025,” she said. “That doesn’t follow the statute.”

Should the final study data be delayed to next summer, it could also delay the crafting of “fair share” legislation, leaving limited time before the Connecticut General Assembly’s long session concludes the first week of June.

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CT ‘fair share’ study delayed; won’t be ready before 2025 session

A report on a controversial statewide zoning reform proposal that would assign each Connecticut town a certain number of housing units to plan and zone for isn’t likely to be finished ahead of the 2025 legislative session following a monthslong delay in finding a contractor to work on the project.

The delay means lawmakers won’t have all the information they’d wanted to craft legislation for another try at passing the policy next year.

Democrats’ signature housing bill from the 2023 session mandated that the state Office of Policy and Management establish a methodology by Dec. 1, 2024 to determine each town’s “fair share” of the number of housing units to plan for — to be determined based on regional need for affordable housing and in a way to “affirmatively further” fair housing.

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A small CT town accepted a ‘first-of-its-kind’ affordable housing project. Why it finally fit in.

Connecticut has an affordable housing problem.

Connecticut has a job vacancy problem.

The two problems, no surprise to many, go together, according to advocates for housing in the state. If people can’t afford to live here, they can’t take the jobs that are available, they say.

And yet, local residents, citing local control, fight against multiple-unit developments coming into their towns.

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Justice delayed for CT residents facing housing discrimination, records show

The Democratic-controlled Connecticut legislature for years has declined to pass any major reforms that would make it easier for the thousands of voucher recipients to use them, instead opting to pass what House Majority Leader Jason Rojas calls “painfully incremental” bills.

Potential help from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is also moving at a snail’s pace.

Around the same time Serrano was discovering that the federal Housing Choice Voucher wasn't going to provide him much of a choice about where to live because of what he calls “government red tape,” civil rights attorneys filed a housing discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development against the state housing department and the governor. At issue is a state law that gives control of the overwhelming majority of the 33,000 federal choice vouchers used in Connecticut to local housing authorities, who limit where and how housing vouchers can be used.

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Legislative session brings reason for hope

The recently concluded 2024 legislative session in Connecticut was a tough one for supporters of fair housing. A number of bills aimed at alleviating our growing crisis fell short of passage, and budgetary considerations made funding new initiatives a challenge. Still, there is reason for optimism as we start preparing for the 2025 session.

On the bright side, the General Assembly approved increased funding for Connecticut’s homelessness response system. It wasn’t as much as advocates had hoped to see, but the money from federal pandemic relief funds will help many people in need. 

Other proposals did not do as well. The Assembly did not approve more funding for the state’s Rental Assistance Program, which, given the increase in rents across the state, will inevitably mean that fewer people will be served by the program. A concurrent proposal to set assistance levels to a more targeted geographic level, rather than across a wider metropolitan area, which would have the effect of helping people afford housing in all neighborhoods, also failed.

Proposals rewarding towns that allow the development of affordable housing, which is critical to any long-term housing solution, also came up short, along with new tenant protections. The Housing Growth Fund, which would provide financial support to municipalities contributing to addressing the state’s affordable housing need; a bill that would require landlords to have a good reason before they evict people from their rental units; and a bill to create a fund for sewer line connections for the purposes of building affordable housing all cleared their respective committees, but did not win approval in the wider Assembly.

Other bills aimed at supporting fair housing supported by groups outside our Growing Together Connecticut coalition met a similar fate. With state leaders deciding not to alter the two-year budget passed in 2023, there were strict limitations on what could be accomplished this year.

Still, the fight for better opportunities for everyone in Connecticut is not over. Advocates learned a lot this session, and our work with dedicated legislators and other decision makers will inspire our plans for future sessions. It’s clear that state leaders recognize they can’t look away from the state’s biggest crisis, which is a lack of affordable housing.

For starters, Open Communities Alliance will advocate for the reintroduction of Fair Share legislation in 2025. This plan, which would calculate the state’s affordable housing needs by municipality and require towns to allow construction of the homes we need, is based on a successful program in New Jersey, where thousands of homes have been built to start filling that state’s needs. (Towns aren’t required to build the housing themselves, only to allow it to be built.)

By doing the same in Connecticut, we can start to build toward our fair-housing goals while allowing towns to decide for themselves how and where that housing will be built. Those decisions will remain at the local level – what will change is that towns will no longer be able to simply say no to most plans, as is the case now.

Looking to the future, we are deeply grateful to the legislative leaders who championed these proposals. We have high hopes for Fair Share and other plans in 2025, and look forward to your continued help and support as we move forward.


CT housing advocates say they’re tired of waiting for change

Housing advocates have a message for state lawmakers: They are tired of waiting for change while thousands of Connecticut residents face housing costs they can’t afford and the prospect of losing their homes.

In a pair of press conferences at the state Capitol on Thursday, tenant union supporters and housing advocates gathered to tell lawmakers that they want to see change, and they want to see it soon. The groups have advocated for reforms to state eviction law, more funding for the state’s homelessness response system, more rental assistance, funding to increase housing development or infrastructure for housing development.

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Affordable Housing Statute Faces Increased Scrutiny

A law passed more than 30 years ago to increase affordable housing across the state is increasingly coming under fire from those who claim it has failed to prevent the state’s current housing crisis.

The Housing Committee heard public testimony Tuesday on a bill that calls for the Housing Commissioner to conduct a study of the impacts of the 30-year-old law – known as 8-30g – and to determine if its revisions would create more affordable housing around the state.

Opponents of the bill fear it is a backdoor attempt to gut 8-30g’s affordable housing goals.

CT General Statute 8-30g, also known as the “Connecticut Affordable Housing Land Use Appeals Procedure,” was passed in 1989. The law sets a goal that 10% of the housing stock in any Connecticut municipality must qualify as “affordable housing.” In municipalities where that goal isn’t met, developers can submit an appeal to the state to override local zoning regulations to build high-density, multi-family housing or other large-scale housing developments.

In a study published earlier this year by the Office of Policy and Management, historic exclusionary zoning practices were found to be one of the major causes of the state’s racial and economic segregation.

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Wide-ranging CT affordable housing bill sparks familiar arguments

Housing Committee members heard familiar arguments Tuesday on a wide-ranging bill that aims to increase affordable housing supply in Connecticut. While opponents argued for local control and less density, advocates spoke about a need to alleviate the fallout from the affordable housing crisis.

Senate Bill 6, the Senate Democrats’ priority bill on housing this session, would also allow housing authorities to build in other towns, give more money to the homelessness response system and add funding to the state’s Rental Assistance Program.

Advocates of the bill spoke to a dire need for more affordable housing. People are struggling to find a place to live, they said, and it’s difficult for people with low incomes to live in many communities in the state. Some also said it’s hard for employers to hire people because there isn’t enough housing for staff.

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Opinion: Can CT move past a shameful history of segregation?

The state deserves credit for the release of the Connecticut Housing & Segregation Study, which was made public in January. This deep dive into the state’s residential housing patterns reveals historic discrimination that has persisted to the present day and continues to shape our cities and towns. Connecticut, it finds, is among the most segregated states in the union.

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