During a public hearing that ran for longer than four hours Thursday evening, 14 state and local representatives and 33 Connecticut residents stepped up to the podium to debate proposed bills amending a current affordable housing law.
Law 8-30g, which allows affordable housing developers to appeal when a local zoning board rejects their proposal, has inspired state legislators to enact 32 bills this year. The recommendations in the bills range from regulating the height of affordable housing units to repealing 8-30g outright. Eighteen state representatives made the trip to New Haven to either preside over the hearing, organized by the Connecticut Housing Committee, or to testify.
“The statute is designed to produce a situation where, if the town cannot make a compelling decision for why they had to say no [to an affordable housing proposal], then the developer gets to go ahead and build,” said Raphael Podolsky, staff attorney for the Legal Assistance Resource Center of Connecticut, a public policy advocacy organization.
Of the 169 towns in Connecticut, 31, including New Haven, have been declared exempt from 8-30g because they offer at least 10 percent of their housing units as affordable housing units.
In the towns not exempt from this law, approximately two thirds of the appeals made by affordable housing developers have been sustained, overturning local zoning board decisions.
But many testified that 8-30g is used too often for decisions that are not supported by the local community, or in towns that are proactively trying to increase affordable housing but just are not able to reach the expectations of 8-30g.
David Fink, policy director for the Partnership for Strong Communities — a non-profit policy advocacy organization focused on eliminating homelessness across the state — said he does not buy into the argument made by towns that say they do not have additional real estate space to increase affordable housing. He added that towns can find ways to do so by rezoning buildings.
“In the city, they knock down old warehouses to create housing, you take old factories and make lofts out of them … you can do it, but it takes some will,” Fink said.
Matthew Mandell, a Westport, Conn. legislative representative, testified that some developers in his town take advantage of 8-30g by building developments that are too dense. These developments are often multi-story complexes that are architecturally distinct from their surrounding buildings.
He advocated for affordable housing but not within the current regulations of 8-30g, from which he believes developers profit. He specifically said the height of some of these complexes should be addressed.
Housing Committee members and those who testified during the hearing focused on the inaccessibility of a four-year moratorium from the law. To incentivize those towns not exempt from 8-30g based on the number of affordable housing units in the area, they can qualify for a four-year moratorium under certain criteria, but many believe these criteria are unreasonable to achieve.
Many of those who testified and a few members of the Housing Committee questioned the regulation that only affordable housing units created after 1990 count towards the moratorium. Others argued that counting those units created after 1990 — 8-30g was adopted in 1989 — accurately shows a town’s commitment to increasing affordable housing, not just sitting on existing units.