Zoning for Equity

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Connecticut is a state of great extremes. It is one of the wealthiest states in the nation. It also hosts some of the starkest income disparities by geography. It boasts exceptional educational outcomes, but also some of the greatest educational disparities based on race, ethnicity, and income. It is home to titans of industry, yet also hosts exceptionally high unemployment disparities based on race and ethnicity. Municipal rules and practices that erect barriers to multifamily and affordable homes, including through town planning documents and zoning ordinances themselves, and the application of these policies by town staff and commissions, can play a central role in driving and solidifying these great social justice divides.

Practices limiting the balanced development of affordable homes across regions also hobble the state economically. Connecticut is ranked second to last in housing production and is one of the top ten least affordable states in the country; its housing, segregation, and poverty concentration crises have serious implications for its overall economic growth. The lack of affordable housing has contributed to Connecticut’s stagnant population growth over the last ten years and, relatedly, continues to disincentivize businesses from staying in Connecticut or relocating to the state. All of these factors contribute to Connecticut’s ranking as one of the worst states for long-term fiscal stability in the United States.

In this report, Open Communities Alliance assesses the planning and zoning practices of 12 towns that have low levels of affordable housing relative to both the regional need for such housing and to the affordable housing supplies of other municipalities, and that have less diversity compared to the state as a whole. Future volumes analyzing the planning and zoning practices of other towns are planned for the coming years. Through these analyses, we seek to achieve at least the following two goals:

  1. Identify an illustrative, not exhaustive, set of planning and zoning mechanisms which may be impeding or blocking the development of multifamily and affordable housing; and
  2. Highlight shortcomings of current policies ostensibly intended to facilitate multifamily or affordable housing, thereby providing municipalities and those advocating for changes at the municipal and state levels guidance on potential areas for improvement to help towns and the state as a whole meet their affordable housing needs.

To do this, we take a deep dive into the inner workings of planning and zoning in the selected towns. However, many of these towns’ land use policies and practices, as well as their planning precepts, are not unique. Rather, their planning documents and zoning ordinances simply serve as examples from which we can identify common practices that can result in excluding a sector of the housing market that serves moderate and lower-income families.

 

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