Capitol Report: Open Communities Alliance Exec. Dir. discusses effort to make housing affordable, equitable

Erin Boggs is the executive director of Open Communities Alliance and has been working on the issue of keeping housing affordable and equitable for some 20 years.

Erin joined Capitol Report to keep the conversation going in the video above.

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Many ideas, but little agreement, on how to address Connecticut’s affordable housing issues

On one point, there seems to be bi-partisan agreement among state legislators and many of those who testified during the Planning and Development Committee’s marathon 24-hour hearing on affordable housing this week: For many people, living in Connecticut is too expensive.

But fault lines emerged during the contentious hearing on how to remedy the high housing costs and the segregation that festers between poor and tony municipalities.

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Advocates say proposed zoning measures offer Connecticut a chance to ‘right historical wrongs’; opponents say they eliminate local control

Empowered by the Black Lives Matter movement and its focus on racial justice, the long-stalled effort to address Connecticut’s legacy of geographic segregation is gaining fresh attention at the Capitol.

“Housing policy is at the nexus of so many other policy outcomes,” House Majority Leader Jason Rojas said. “It is ... central to the larger debate we’re having right now about equity and racial justice in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and also in the wake of the disproportionate impact COVID has had on lower income communities and communities of color.”

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Opinion: Fair Share Zoning the right thing, the smart thing

Connecticut is facing a series of crises. We are at the bottom of the barrel in terms of segregation, income inequality, housing affordability, infrastructure and economic mobility — and in the bottom half of states for fiscal stability. Over 208,000 families in Connecticut earning less than half of the median income (about $50,000 for a family of four) are paying over half of their income or more towards housing costs. The extent to which COVID-19 has ravaged Black and Latino communities is a palpable reflection of this inequality.

These current crises are in large part the result of federal, state and local government policies that fostered and perpetuate housing segregation. These policies include redlining, which started in the 1930s and was not technically banned until 1968, limited government-backed home loans and insurance to “stable” neighborhoods that deliberately excluded areas with significant Black and Latino populations. Scholars attribute a significant portion of today’s 90 percent wealth gap between Blacks and Latinos, on the one hand, and whites, on the other, directly to the home appreciation experienced by white families under this discriminatory government policy.

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A Push for Zoning Reform in Connecticut

Open Communities Alliance, a housing advocacy group, is calling on the affluent suburb of Woodbridge to amend its zoning code to allow for multifamily housing in most every residential district in town. The request for a zoning amendment accompanies the group’s application to build a four-unit residential building on 1.5 acres in a single-family zone; two of the units would be reserved for low-income renters.

“We’re here today to open Woodbridge,” declared Erin Boggs, the alliance’s executive director, at the first public hearing last November on the application before the planning and zoning commission.

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As Biden promises to tackle housing discrimination, HUD scrutinizes Connecticut’s laws

When President Joe Biden took office, his administration inherited an unresolved complaint and lawsuit that civil rights attorneys filed last fall, charging that Connecticut’s housing laws — which leave most decisions to local officials — are harmful to Black and Latino residents.

Now, while U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Justice determine if the state is violating federal fair housing laws — by limiting where Section 8 housing vouchers can be used and where affordable housing can be developed — state lawmakers for the fourth consecutive year are considering whether to tackle the issue before the federal government decides whether to step in.

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H.B. 6430 — the bold action needed to address the housing crisis

We know the numbers. The need is clear.

Connecticut, like the nation, has been in the midst of a housing crisis –a crisis that predates the COVID-19 pandemic but has been exacerbated by it.

Over 130,000 of Connecticut’s lowest-income families (those earning at or below 30% of the area median income) are facing extraordinary housing cost burdens (paying 50% or more of their income toward housing) according to Open Communities Alliance Fair Share Housing Model for Connecticut, 2020. Increase the threshold to families earning up to 50% of the AMI and that number soars to over 200,000 Connecticut households. The Federal government’s own estimate of need indicates that U.S. affordable housing programs are under-resourced to such a degree that only one out of every four income-eligible families is receiving assistance. As if that weren’t enough, currently, over 150,000 Connecticut neighbors are at risk of eviction in the midst of the worst healthcare crisis of our lifetime (CT Mirror, 12/21/2020).

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Woodbridge Becomes A Test Case For Advocates Of Affordable Housing

Developer AA Denorfia Building & Development wants to bring more affordable housing to Woodbridge. Its application has the backing of Open Communities Alliance, a nonprofit that works on housing equity, and the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School. But the proposal also has drawn opposition, dominating the town’s planning and zoning meetings for the last two months.

The problem: The town’s zoning regulations need to be changed to allow for the four-unit multifamily house. The solution -- according to Open Communities Alliance -- is changing those regulations, which would then create more opportunities for affordable housing in Woodbridge. For OCA, this represents a test case in the town.

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Emerging ideas can challenge prejudicial housing rules

For those who live in such neighborhoods, large homes on large lots may seem the epitome of the American Dream. The uglier truth, however, is that too many Connecticut residents for too long have been shut out of home ownership and too many struggle to pay market-rate rents. This is largely because of restrictive zoning that encourages large-lot, single-family development. It results in much of the state’s housing being a financial pipe dream for low- and even moderate-income residents. This includes many young people who may want to live in the town in which they grew up, and those who work in such vital professions as teaching, firefighting and law enforcement.

High property costs and restrictive zoning regulations make it next to impossible, even should developers desire to do so, to build more affordable housing such as duplex and multi-family units, clustered housing or smaller homes on smaller lots.

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Multifamily housing fight in Woodbridge could have broad implications for zoning in Connecticut

A standoff over a proposal to build multifamily housing on a 1.5 acre residential property in Woodbridge has broad implications for zoning laws in other towns across Connecticut — a state with the 10th-highest housing wage in the U.S., according to the National Low Income Housing Commission, and where the average two-bedroom rental has a fair market rate of $1,374 per month.

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