Connecticut’s lagging residential construction hurts affordable housing supply, experts say

No state in the country has enough housing that’s available and affordable for the lowest income renters. Connecticut lacks 86,717 rental units that are available and affordable to tenants with extremely low incomes, according to estimates from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.


For other Connecticut residents with low incomes, it means they’re rent burdened — paying more than a third of their income to housing costs.

New residential construction, particularly of multifamily housing, has lagged in Connecticut for years, a problem that’s been exacerbated by the pandemic, industry experts said.

Through the pandemic, developers have seen rising costs of materials and labor for new construction projects. And a portion of what’s been built has been billed as luxury housing, not affordable for people with lower incomes.

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New coalition renews push for more affordable housing in CT

About 20 organizations have joined a coalition to support a new, multi-year initiative designed to support more affordable housing and reduce segregation in Connecticut.

The initiative, called Growing Together Connecticut, aims to build 300,000 new housing units and promote revitalization in Connecticut over the next 10 years. Among the first goals is to create a fair share planning and zoning law for zoning reform in the state.

“From our perspective, Connecticut has this sort of dual housing crisis,” said Erin Boggs, executive director of the Open Communities Alliance. The alliance is an organizing member on the steering committee.

“On one hand, we are one of the most expensive states in the country, and on the other, we are one of the most segregated.”

Municipalities would be responsible for building a share of new affordable housing units to meet a statewide goal. A draft bill stipulates the state will determine the need.

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Open Communities Alliance Statement on Sheff v. O’Neill Settlement

Open Communities Alliance Statement on Sheff v. O’Neill Settlement

January 27, 2022


Open Communities Alliance congratulates the Sheff Plaintiffs, their counsel, and the state of Connecticut for reaching a final settlement in the Sheff v. O’Neill school desegregation case. Without the dedication and tenacity of the team that advanced Sheff, the Hartford school system would likely be as segregated today as it was when the case began in 1989.  While there is much left to do to ensure that all students in Hartford have access to high performing schools and there remains a tremendous need to further and ongoing educational integration efforts in the public schools in the Hartford region, it is important to acknowledge this tremendous achievement borne out of decades of civil rights struggle.

“Cases like Sheff are daunting to undertake, hard fought, and imperative to ensure that rights enshrined in our civil rights laws and our state Constitution hold real meaning,” said Open Communities Alliance’s Executive Director Erin Boggs. “We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to the Sheff plaintiffs and legal team for doggedly protecting these rights."

This accomplishment also begs other important questions. First, what is the future for school systems across the state that do not get the benefit of the diversity available to many (though still by no means all) students in the Hartford region? Second, understanding that residential segregation drives school segregation, is the state of Connecticut prepared to step up and support structural changes to our housing and zoning policies so that meaningful integrative housing choices are available throughout our state without recourse to costly litigation? Lastly, going forward, how are we as a state going to provide meaningful investment and opportunities to low-income families and children in neighborhoods that have faced systematic disinvestment?

Open Communities Alliance stands ready to be a partner in developing equitable and thoughtful solutions to these challenges.


Private Land Trusts Need to Acknowledge the Role Conservation Plays in Exacerbating Inequitable Access to Land

Last year, Open Communities Alliance (OCA) sought to expand housing opportunities and end exclusionary zoning practices in Woodbridge via an application to the TPZ. In its study of our zoning history, the work of the Yale Law School Housing Clinic found that Woodbridge has repeatedly resisted calls to end its exclusionary practices. According to the study, a backlash from residents concerned about property values, quality of life, and “the character” of Woodbridge ensues whenever the town attempts to remove restrictions. Ultimately the town abandons significant changes rather than risk upsetting vocal anti-density residents.

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'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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