Let's Talk Housing

Facts Matter

A Housing Crisis in Connecticut

In the same way that I approach all public policy debates, I believe facts matter. We are facing a housing crisis in CT, and we need smart solutions that diversify housing in a way that works for our town. With all of the political finger pointing and rhetoric, I believe it is important to ensure our discussion about housing is grounded in a clear understanding of the law. I have serious concerns about 8-30g and its approach to facilitating the development of affordable housing that works for our community. In my official capacity as a State Legislator, I have proposed substantive solutions via public hearing to our Housing Committee to address these concerns. However, campaigns claiming to repeal 8-30g with no ideas and no viable replacement is as empty of a promise as is the pledge to repeal the state income tax without a plan. Serious challenges deserve serious solutions, and Fairfield deserves no less.

 

Most people agree that we need to diversify our housing stock so our seniors can downsize their homes and stay in the community, and our young people can return. The facts are that, unfortunately, our state has the tightest rental market in the country- meaning, we have the fewest unoccupied rental units in America. We also have 1 in 4 adults living with a family member because they are not able to obtain housing that they can afford. This is coupled with an estimated 90,000 too few affordable housing units. If we want our economy to grow, we need places for people to live. Companies won’t want to grow in CT if their employees cannot afford to live here.

A Quick Overview: What is 8-30g?

State Statute, commonly referred to as “8-30g” is a requirement applicable to any town with fewer than 10% of their housing units deemed affordable. Affordable is not low income. The definition of affordable in the statute was established to target middle-class workers so that teachers, police officers, and firefighters could afford to live in the communities they worked. It says anyone earning between 60-80% of the town or state median income- whichever is lower- should not pay more than 30% of their income on housing. For affordable units, they are capped at that price, including utilities and any HOA fees. The goal of 8-30g was to leverage the private sector to fund the construction of this housing.

 

For municipalities below the 10% threshold, developers can apply for an 8-30g waiver to local zoning regulations for height, density, setback, etc. In exchange for the zoning flexibility, developers must deed 30% of the constructed units as affordable for 40 years. Towns can reject these applications for safety or environmental concerns. In 2000, the law was amended so that when municipalities reach roughly 3% of their housing stock deeded affordable, they receive what is known as a “moratorium”- a three-year pause on the town having to issue 8-30g waivers to developers. This gives communities some breathing room to drive their own plan to meet the required progress, and in doing so, towns can continue to earn subsequent moratoriums.

Watch Jenn's Testimony on S.B. 169

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Watch Jenn's Forum on Local Affordable Housing

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Read Jenn's Testimony on the Unquowa Road Zoning Application

Why all the finger pointing?

Local officials blame the state for giving this discretion to developers and essentially overwriting local zoning regulations. While the state says, without such a law, towns would not act on their own.

 

Both sides have a point.

 

Too many 8-30g proposals are insensitive to existing neighborhoods with regard to traffic, design, and height. At the same time, in the 33 years since 8-30g was adopted, the town of Fairfield has failed to proactively zone to permit affordable housing where it makes sense. Our peer towns - Westport, New Canaan, Darien, and Wilton - have all earned one or more moratoriums from 8-30g…why is Fairfield lagging behind?

 

No town was ever expected to reach the 3% threshold with 8-30g waivers alone. If we all agree we want more housing options and more affordable housing in our community, we need creative solutions. We have a Housing Authority in town that builds 100 percent affordable housing. Partnering with the Housing Authority is how the town can make a meaningful dent in not only the number of required affordable units under 8-30g but also in providing a wider diversity of housing options for our residents. Additionally, the town could help make small-scale affordable development easier with streamlined approval processes and proactive matching of multifamily housing on the MLS and small-scale developers interested in these types of projects.

 

Our Town Plan and Zoning Commission needs a tangible, proactive, and actionable plan to clearly lay out what the goals are and how the town is going to achieve them. While Fairfield’s TPZ adopted the recommendations of the town’s Transit Oriented Development Study, they never implemented those recommendations into the town’s zoning regulations. Doing so would help generate the types of development the town does want by giving developers a clear idea of what is desired and a streamlined process.

 

Back in March, in testimony before the Housing Committee, I proposed eliminating the 10% requirement and replacing it with the 3% moratorium requirement so long as municipalities continue to meet the benchmarks of their state-required 8-30j Affordability Plans. I am also working on crafting legislation to provide tax abatements to developers constructing smaller-scale affordable development that fits more naturally within neighborhoods. Additionally, for the long-term health and vibrancy of all our communities, we need to expand the work of the CT Housing Finance Authority, which supports first-time homebuyers with down payment assistance and lower mortgage rates.

 

The bottom line is that it is easy to play political games. It is not easy to actually solve difficult problems. For the past two years, I have worked with neighbors, colleagues, and experts to better understand the complexity of our housing challenge, push back against ideas I didn’t think were right for Fairfield, communicate clearly, and propose real solutions to benefit my constituents and our town. This issue is deeply complex and we need serious ideas that will deliver meaningful solutions for our community- not more empty campaign promises.

Jennifer Leeper

State Representative, 132 District

Fairfield & Southport