Tim Tai, Photography Editor

With a 1.4 percent rental vacancy rate in the city according to recent census data, New Haveners are struggling to find affordable housing. 

As New Haven residents search for available and affordable living units, rent has continued to increase across the city. New Haven’s Housing Authority — the public housing agency that helps residents find and access housing — currently serves 6,000 families, according to president Karen DuBois-Walton ’89. But over 55,000 families remain on their waitlist to be served. 

New Haven community leaders and politicians expressed their hopes that 2023 will be the year that the city makes headway in its fight for affordable housing, which has become a defining issue in New Haven and the Connecticut General Assembly. 

“We can’t really get past the fact that New Haven, with all the wealth of a university like Yale and a number of folks who do live with enough, remains a very low income city with 25 percent of our families living in poverty,” said DuBois-Walton.

Understanding the crisis 

According to Dubois-Walton, the origins of the housing crisis can be traced back to the 1970s, when living unit production in the city began to lag. Across the state in the years since, housing development has not kept pace with population growth and stagnating wages have left many families struggling to make rent. 

A 2021 report by Data Haven, a New Haven-based statistics bank, found that 53 percent of households in New Haven are cost-burdened, meaning they spend at least 30 percent of their total income on housing. 

DuBois-Walton pointed to the fact that recent development in New Haven has predominantly been in luxury market housing. 

“What’s coming into the market is out of price for families who are in the market currently and need it,” DuBois-Walton said. “And that’s a real fear that that’s going to continue to price out families and continue to segregate the community by income and by race.” 

Mayor Justin Elicker said that New Haven is also impacted by insufficient amounts of housing in surrounding areas. He urged a broader statewide approach to addressing the Connecticut housing shortage. 

“New Haven is not an island,” Elicker said. “We have seen a significant reluctance from many of our suburban counterparts, including active resistance to housing being built in their towns. We can’t do this alone.” 

City officials propose different solutions

Officials have proposed a variety of solutions aimed at addressing the city’s lack of affordable housing. 

Last January, New Haven’s Board of Alders passed an inclusionary zoning law, which requires new apartment buildings to reserve a set percentage of units for affordable housing. The legislation, which has been a centerpiece of the Elicker administration, mandates that all market-rate developments include a certain percentage of units priced at 50 percent of the area median income. 

Dubois-Walton sees inclusionary zoning as a step in the right direction, but urged a fuller-scale rezoning program in New Haven. 

“Inclusionary zoning is going to be one small piece in a bigger pie of a number of things that need to happen,” she said. 

Dubois-Walton said she would also like to see the city implement stronger tenant protection measures and eliminate discrimination based on past evictions and criminal backgrounds.

One such tenant protection measure is the state’s Right to Counsel Program, which provides free legal representation to low-income tenants facing eviction. Before the program began last year, only about 7 percent of tenants in Connecticut had attorneys in eviction cases. 

According to CT Data Collaborative, Black renters are over three times more likely than white renters to face eviction, and Hispanic or Latino renters are over two times more likely. Female renters are also disproportionately evicted, according to the data. 

Recently, housing advocates have also begun campaigning for rent cap legislation. Introduced in Hartford by State Sen. Gary Winfield and State Rep. Robyn Porter, legislation known as Cap the Rent would limit annual rent increases to no more than 2.5 percent and reduce no-fault evictions. In no-fault eviction, or section 21 eviction, the landlord does not need a reason to evict but instead can evict if the lease has expired, the landlord wishes to stay in the unit or a similar circumstance. 

Another aspect of tenant protection is ensuring that affordable housing is safe and well-maintained. 

“We have been working to hold landlords more accountable through improved lead inspections to protect young children who are the most vulnerable for lead poisoning,” Elicker said.

Last year the city’s health department investigated 132 cases of lead poisoning, according to their website. The department opens a case when they receive a blood test from a child under the age of six that contains over five micrograms of lead per deciliter. So far this year, the department has launched three case investigations in the city, according to their website. 

Elicker also highlighted the importance of assisting residents with security deposits. Under the “I’m Home” initiative launched last October, the city provides renters with security deposit assistance up to $5,000. The program is eligible for renters with low to middle income. 

Challengers to incumbent Elicker propose ending tax abatements, expanding public housing and narrowing streets

With September’s Democratic primary for mayor fast approaching, all four potential candidates — including incumbent Elicker, former Beaver Hills Alder Shafiq Abdussabur, current Hartford Inspector General Liam Brennan LAW ’07 and former McKinsey consultant Tom Goldenberg — have weighed in on the housing crisis.

Possible mayoral candidate Liam Brennan has proposed that the city narrow its streets to build more housing, while also redoing the 2021 property tax revaluation. In this revaluation, many homes in New Haven saw a sharp increase in prices while large developments saw smaller tax hikes. 

Brennan also argued that the city can not just rely on the inclusionary zoning laws and commercial developments to deal with the crisis. In addition to inclusionary zoning, Brennan proposed that the city expand public housing. 

“Inclusionary zoning is not the silver bullet by any means, but construction is also super important because we simply don’t have enough homes in the city,” Brennan told the News. “We should be building multi-family homes instead of large apartment complexes with lavish gyms and pools since this will increase the number of people who have roofs over their heads.” 

Abdussabur has called for the cessation of tax abatements for large commercial properties while Goldenberg has proposed a freeze on property tax increases. 

The New Haven Housing Authority is located at 360 Orange St #1, New Haven, CT 06511. 

Nati Tesfaye is a sophomore in Branford College from East Haven, Connecticut. He covers business, workers and unions in the city of New Haven. Last year, he covered housing and homelessness for the News.
Maggie Grether covers housing and homelessness for city desk. Originally from Pasadena, California, she is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles college.
Yash Roy covered City Hall and State Politics for the News. He also served as a Production & Design editor, and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion chair for the News. Originally from Princeton, New Jersey, he is a '25 in Timothy Dwight College majoring in Global Affairs.