Aldermanic committee gives green light to controversial inclusionary zoning ordinance
After much debate, a piece of housing legislation that would require New Haven developers to make a specific amount of their units affordable was unanimously voted in by the Board of Alders Legislation Committee.
Daniel Zhao, Senior Photographer
On Tuesday night, New Haven residents spoke to members of the Board of Alders on a proposed inclusionary zoning ordinance that attempts to work toward solving the city’s housing crisis.
The ordinance would revise the zoning ordinance of the Elm City to require and incentivize the inclusion of affordable housing units. During Tuesday’s meeting, which was a public hearing hosted by the board’s Legislation Committee, 13 residents gave testimony and the committee ultimately gave a favorable report to the proposed legislation, moving the policy closer to final approval.
“I think we have now had an extremely productive, now, two months of discussion on this inclusionary zoning item,” Ward 9 Charles Decker GRD ’19 said after the vote.
The legislation defines affordability based on the Area Median Income, or AMI. In order to be considered affordable, rent must be practical for families making 50 percent or less of the AMI. According to the Connecticut Department of Housing, affordable under this definition would mean a monthly rent of $1,090 for a two-bedroom apartment at the highest.
The ordinance uses a system of tiered zones throughout the city. Tier 1 is focused on the downtown area and will require developments of 10 or more units to have 10 percent of the units be affordable and an additional five percent of units be available for housing voucher holders. In Tier 2, which includes Dixwell, Dwight Square, East Rock, Long Wharf, Wooster Square, parts of the Hill, parts of Fair Haven and parts of Newhallville, five percent of units must be affordable. The remainder of the city is Tier 3, where only the developments with 75 or more units have to make five percent of units affordable.
The definition of AMI was a concern to Kerry Ellington, a New Havener who spoke at the meeting. Ellington noted that the proposal uses regional income levels that included suburban communities and hoped for the proposal to use neighborhood income levels.
“I am in support of a truly inclusionary zoning policy,” Ellington said. “This is not that, this is actually exclusionary.”
Ellington also brought up the fact that the ordinance expands beyond downtown New Haven and might decrease affordability in Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas. Ellington worried that the five percent affordability requirement in these areas would incentivize unaffordable development in said areas.
There were also concerns about how this ordinance might encourage the University’s overdevelopment.
“I am actually testifying against the inclusionary zoning because I feel there is a lack of knowledge as far as what the inclusionary zoning is and how it is being interpreted because I really don’t think this zoning policy is being transparent,” Melissa Singlet said to the committee. “I feel as though the approval of this zoning will also allow for Yale to come in and start buying up and changing areas within the residents of the Dixwell Avenue area.”
The potential benefits of the ordinance were also discussed. Lynnelle Schmidt, who was born in New Haven and told stories of her housing struggles, supported the ordinance. She shared her desire to be in the community she grew up in, along with hoping to remain near family. However, she found that living in New Haven with a growing family is “not feasible” for her.
She was concerned about the maintenance of much of the current affordable housing, along with the difficulty of paying upfront costs and deposits. She said that she feels that working people are “being pushed out,” and hopes that the ordinance will change that.
“This inclusionary zoning policy in front of us, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a policy that ensures that everyday people aren’t locked out when developers are building large market rate buildings,” Decker said.
Madison Laprise ’25 wrote a letter to the committee and read the letter at the previous meeting where the ordinance was discussed.
She argued that affordable housing was necessary but that affordable housing through luxury apartments was not the answer. She also spoke on the AMI requirement for affordability and how at its current level, it is too high to be truly inclusionary.
“I think on an individual level it’s important for us to acknowledge that we are in a much more privileged position for going here to this elite wealthy institution, and that outside of the Yale bubble, people are struggling because of just the wealth disparity and the wealth inequality,” Laprise told the News. “I encourage my fellow Yalies to step outside of the Yale bubble and take a look around and see that the community deserves involvement from all of us because we all live in New Haven, and we are all accountable to the people and community here.”
The legislation had been amended since it was last debated on Nov. 9. The amendments clarified the grandfathering in of developments that are already underway when the law is passed.
According to Assistant Corporation Counsel Michael Pinto, any developments that are already approved by the city, or any development with an already submitted application, would not have to meet the inclusionary housing requirements.
“The substitute text doesn’t really change any of the substantial policy points that we presented previously,” City Plan Director Aicha Woods ARC ’97 said on the text amendments.
The inclusionary zoning ordinance was voted on favorably by all six alders on the committee.