Gov. Dannel Malloy’s July 7 veto of House Bill 6880, “An Act Concerning the Affordable Housing Land Use Appeals Procedure,” may have taken many legislators by surprise – and looks like it could be overridden if a bipartisan group of lawmakers has its way.
The bill, which supporters called “a modest step towards affordable housing reform which hoped to offer towns an attainable goal of developing and reaching a moratorium” on zoning appeals, received the support of 77 percent of House of Representatives members and 83 percent of votes in the state Senate.
The legislation would have made it harder for developers to appeal zoning denials by towns for projects that the 30-year-old law known as “8-30g” allows. Designed to provide affordable housing, the statute has often been abused by developers, according to the vetoed bill’s proponents and some municipal officials.
Many developers have used the law, which requires them to set aside 10 percent of units as affordable housing, to push through residential building projects that might not normally be approved.
State Sen. Tony Hwang, a Republican who represents Fairfield, Newtown, Westport, Weston and Easton, told the Business Journal that while 8-30g’s aims are admirable, its implementation has often been “ill-fated and ill-advised.”
“The problem is that it has become a tool for potentially predatory development practices,” he said.
Such developers, Hwang said, can come into a community and propose multiple-unit buildings in any area that qualifies, regardless of the historical character of a given neighborhood, the wishes of existing residents and zoning restrictions. When such cases go to court, developers typically win approval.
Hwang, who co-chairs the General Assembly Housing Committee, said the reform fight will continue. “The support for these reforms from Democrats and Republicans was overwhelming and we will keep fighting,” he said.
State Rep. Laura Devlin, a Republican representing parts of Fairfield and Trumbull, and Rep. Brenda Kupchick, a Republican whose House district includes Fairfield and Southport, both released statements decrying the governor’s move, with Kupchick calling on the General Assembly to override the veto.
“The governor is so shortsighted on this issue,” she told the Business Journal. “Frankly, I think he has a lack of understanding of the need for reform.”
Connecticut’s cities and towns are required to set aside 10 percent of housing units as affordable for low- to middle-income residents. A unit is considered affordable if it costs an occupant no more than one-third of his or her annual income, where that income is less than or equal to the area median income for the municipality in which the housing is located.
Fewer than 20 percent of the state’s 169 municipalities reportedly comply with the law, resulting in a number of lawsuits being brought by developers against communities that have denied housing projects said to be compliant with the 8-30g law.
Last fall, Brookfield First Selectman Steve Dunn (D) decried 8-30g as “basically letting a developer do anything he wants to as long as he obeys health and safety regulations” to the Business Journal.
The state has granted a number of municipalities a four-year moratorium on zoning appeals. HB 6880 would have extended the grace period to five years for cities and towns with at least 20,000 dwelling units, which includes such locales as Greenwich, Fairfield and Milford.
In addition, the bill would lower the amount of Housing Unit Equivalency points a municipality must attain before a moratorium can be declared from 75 to 50. This is especially important in towns like Fairfield, Kupchick said, where affordable housing built before 8-30g went into effect in 1990 are not included in the point count.
Kupchick said the law as it stands has resulted in a number of large developers “wanting to put up 30-, 60- and 95-unit buildings practically anywhere they want, which increases the overall population but further diminishes the availability of affordable housing for those who most need it, including seniors. They can’t go out and earn more money and elevate themselves.”
In announcing his veto, Malloy said that “Every resident of Connecticut should have access to housing they can afford in the town where they work. So, too, should everyone be able to live affordably in the town that they choose, with access to good schools, safe neighborhoods, and basic services, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or income.
“However,” he continued, “for many lower-income residents who must work in areas of the state where the cost of housing is high, a long history of decisions and discriminatory policies has made securing that housing persistently difficult.”
Those decisions include the historical practice of redlining – denying mortgages to entire neighborhoods because of the residents’ race or ethnicity – and passing restrictive zoning rules “that make it nearly impossible to build multifamily housing, or that require home lots to be so large that only the wealthy can buy them,” the governor added. “These kinds of rules effectively price people of limited means who work in such towns out of the market.”
Since Malloy took office in 2011, the state has supported the development of nearly 21,000 units of housing, with approximately 18,500 of those units affordable to persons of low and moderate income. The governor’s office said that the state’s investment in affordable housing totals about $1 billion, and has spurred another $2.5 billion in direct economic activity from the private sector and other sources across the state.
State Reps. Ben McGorty (R-122nd, covering Shelton, Stratford and Trumbull), Laura Hoydick (R-120th, Shelton) and Joseph Gresko (D-121st, Shelton) have urged fellow legislators to join their efforts at overriding the veto.
“It will require a considerable amount of effort to overturn the governor’s veto,” Kupchick said, “but I’d say we have more than a fighting chance.”