Why do so many CT residents struggle to find housing? One reason: Exclusionary zoning

Finding housing in Connecticut has long been a challenge. And it’s only getting more challenging.

The state’s housing vacancy rate is about half the national average. The state lacks about 92,000 affordable housing units. A recent report declared that Connecticut is the worst state in the U.S. for renters.

Experts have been sounding the alarm on the state’s affordable housing crisis for years. They say the state’s lack of supply is due in large part to exclusionary zoning — stringent zoning rules that make it difficult to build.

Most types of housing are illegal across the majority of the state, said Anika Singh Lemar, a law professor at Yale Law School who studies housing issues. About 90% of Connecticut is zoned for single-family housing.

That approach has led to segregation across Connecticut. A recent housing report commissioned by the state declared that "segregation in the state of Connecticut is high."

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In Connecticut, many point to a proposed program, Fair Share, as a way to develop more housing. Fair Share would identify a certain amount of affordable housing for each municipality to adopt. It’s a plan that’s modeled after a similar program in New Jersey. The legislation has stalled in Connecticut’s legislature, although some lawmakers are hopeful it’ll be considered in the 2025 session.

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Opponents also say the policy goes against the idea of local control, where towns create regulations. But that’s a myth, said Erin Boggs, executive director of Open Communities Alliance, who's helping push for Fair Share in Connecticut.

"One of the most astounding myths that sprung up around Fair Share this session was the notion that it took local control in zoning away from towns,” Boggs said.

In the 1920s, Connecticut gave its municipalities the authority to zone.

Towns are supposed to allow zoning for multifamily housing and promote diversity in housing, including housing for low- and middle-income households.

"Clearly, they're not doing it,” Boggs said. "They need some assistance and that ... would be provided in the form of Fair Share."

She points to success in New Jersey, which she said has “produced an astounding number of housing units," especially in recent years. Its program came about via a lawsuit and required all New Jersey municipalities to provide their “fair share” of affordable housing in their region.

 

Why do so many CT residents struggle to find housing? One reason: Exclusionary zoning, Sabrina Buckwalter, Connecticut Public Radio, June 27, 2024, available here

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